Cost of living is less than miserable at UAA

The rolling economy in the country has left cost of living figures scattered across the map lately. Alaska has been no exception to skyrocketing and low-swooping prices of health care, education, food and transportation.

In a state that depends so much on income from the oil industry, nearly 85 percent, fluctuations in energy costs greatly influence changes in the cost of living. Despite popular opinion, prices have not stayed a straight course for the clouds recently. In early 2009, energy costs fell, providing some relief for consumers, including students at UAA.

“There is a significant increase in the number of students attending UAA this year,” Bruce Schultz, vice chancellor for student affairs, said.

At UAA, including all community campuses, student enrollment has gone up 5.9 percent from last year, bringing the number of students to 16,880. The main campus houses 13,710 of those students, and has seen a 3.8 percent increase in students in the last year. With strong tremors of the nation’s recession still shaking the economy, UAA has remained solid against inflation and cost of living prices, explaining the rising enrollment numbers.

UAA is part of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, including it in a group of schools in America’s west. Average tuition for those schools is $5,382, with spikes from schools like Colorado School of Mines and University of Nevada, whose tuition has risen up to 19.9 percent. The University of Alaska’s tuition has only risen 1.9 percent, placing it at $4,749. What these numbers mean is that cost of education in Alaska has remained low despite nationwide trends, allowing students to afford tuition and acquire a degree.

Hometown universities have always seemed less than a student’s dream of the college experience. In past years the majority of Alaska high school graduates have left the state for post-secondary education.

Since 1996, that majority has abandoned towering out-of-state tuition prices and instead remains in Alaska. Currently, nearly 63 percent of Alaska high school students end up attending an institution in Alaska. It could be the wonderfully low temperatures or even the delightful daytime darkness. More likely what is instigating this new trend is the affordability of UAA.

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The economy hasn’t left Alaska completely untouched. Energy costs and inflation shot to the stars in 2008. Alaskans saw the effects of this in the housing market, transportation and medical care prices.

The Alaska Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a tool for measuring cost of living in Alaska. It pools together components that the Alaska consumer spends money on. In 2008, the CPI rose 4.6 percent in Anchorage, a giant increase not seen since 1991.

A year later in 2009, the CPI only rose 1.3 percent. Accounting for inflation, this increase is not nearly spectacular. The decrease in energy prices explains this. Where Alaskans and UAA students see this change is in transportation and apparel prices, which have both dropped since 2008.

A low 2009 CPI does not mean smooth sailing for students at UAA. As many know, loans are now difficult to acquire.

“One of the big changes [in student finances] has occurred with the Alaska Supplemental Education Loan,” Schultz said, ” It now requires a credit check and a minimum credit score has been established.”

Approximately 73 percent of the applicants for this loan were denied. After finding a co-signer, however, only 15 percent did not get the loan.

“The University of Alaska student aid is still available,” Schultz stresses.

The University processed over $60 million in student aid last year, and this year that number is expected to exceed $70 million.

The past few years have been tense within the economy. This year shines some hope however, and UAA adds its own light to the mix.