A discussion of establishing a college in Haines Tuesday centered on two different models: one that would offer courses here through colleges or universities to students from the Lower 48 and another aimed at providing continuing education to residents or recent high school graduates.

Alaska Mountain Guides owner Sean Gaffney said he was working with the American Bald Eagle Foundation to offer ornithology classes through a program akin to his successful International Wilderness Leadership School program.

The ILWS model provides college-level courses in outdoors skills through universities and serves 700 students per year. Colleges collect tuition, handle administration and award credits, and Gaffney’s firm provides instruction and receives course fees.

But Gaffney said the programs can take years to develop and must complement what a college already is offering. “You add on to a program and make it easier for them to add to their (offerings),” Gaffney said. “You have to get (universities) to partner, but it’s increasingly difficult to do that. The challenge is building a relationship with universities to get to the point where they want to offer these programs.”

Gaffney discouraged the idea of building infrastructure and said it was unlikely the University of Alaska would look for a site here. “I can’t imagine University of Alaska looking at another campus at this time. I think they’re heading in the opposite direction as fast as possible.”

Gaffney said a successful program would need to have a sound business plan. “It’s not that there’s big bucks out there. If a plan isn’t fiscally sound, it doesn’t have a chance.”

Teacher Patty Brown and Tonya Clark spoke in favor of a model that might extend from the school district’s Community Education program, possibly benefitting recent high school graduates who haven’t chosen a career. “It wouldn’t necessarily involve a big investment, but tie together smaller programs,” Brown said.

Resident Greg Podsiki, who helped put together the group, said he envisioned “field” programs here, possibly involving raptors, arts or renewable energy. He suggested looking for gaps in the University of Alaska program that courses here might fill.

Eagle foundation founder Dave Olerud, one of about 14 residents who turned out for the meeting, said his dream decades ago for a Haines-based bald eagle institute through the University of Alaska-Southeast died for lack of funding.

The foundation’s goal now is to string together enough raptor-based infrastructure to attract classes using Gaffney’s model, at least to start. “With small increments of investment, we could develop an ornithology program here that would be second-to-none,” Olerud said. But he said “to create anything now is a nightmare” with recent cuts to state and federal programs.

Olerud noted that the foundation’s summer internship program is largely paid through a trust fund. With more money in the fund and additional housing, he could bring more interns, he said.

Podsiki, however, said he envisioned classes would work best during winter months when housing is more available and the local economy could use a boost.

Gaffney said a successful program should key on offerings unique to the area that couldn’t be duplicated elsewhere. He expressed optimism programs could be launched, but said getting college professors to bring classes here would be a hard sell. “It’s not a phone call.”

Other discussion participants said college professors wouldn’t be necessary to launch a program that might be led by residents with expertise in certain areas. Teacher Brown suggested a partnership with the Road Scholar program, an education and travel program for older adults.