Financial aid being debated

Making college affordable is a hot topic at the 26th Alaska State legislature. The second session, which began on Jan. 19 and ends April 18, has involved discussion about Governor Parnell’s Performance Scholarship and the 2011 UA budget request.

The Governor’s Performance Scholarship (GPS) was first introduced to the legislature on Jan. 19 as a post-secondary scholarship allowing students financial aid based on high school GPA and completion of core courses. The Governor’s proposal of strictly performance-based requirements of the GPS has met with opposition from legislators and students alike.

“Research done by UAA and other states demonstrates that the best financial aid includes a needs based and merit comprehensive plan,” Nick Moe said, USUAA, government relations director.

A survey at UAA yielded about 350 responses supporting the GPS or a substitute to the GPS.

A substitute to the GPS introduced by the senate education committee includes a needs based component. Scholars for Dollars, an event sponsored by USUAA rallied students to support this substitute.

“Student Leaders have been pushing for a statewide scholarship plan for three years,” Moe said. “We are confident that with support we can get this bill passed.”

Allowing students the financial opportunity is still of utmost importance.

- Advertisement -

“There is a lot of dialogue right now about the GPS,” Department of Education and Early Development Commissioner Larry LeDoux said. “I think it is really important, the intent is to increase the preparation of young people in Alaska for college.”

With a needs based component, the GPS would take information from the FAFSA and pair it with a student’s high school GPA and ACT or SAT scores. Also, students must take required classes during high school in order to qualify for the GPS.

“GPA is the highest predictor of college graduation,” LeDoux said. “Standardized tests are best at predicting a student’s first year grades as a freshman in college.”

Currently, the GPS bill is in the house and the senate. A group of students from UAA traveled to Juneau to support the GPS on Feb. 19. This advocacy team of 14 students met with legislators to reaffirm student issues.

“I don’t like calling the GPS a scholarship,” LeDoux said. “Rather a contract. There is money there and if you perform well you can get it. The keywords are rigor and expectation.”

The UA budget request, submitted to the Governor by the Board of Regents and then to legislators, is also on the agenda this session. The request by the BOR to the governor for the operating budget totaled $870 million.

The Governor then submitted the request to the legislature for nearly $848 million. For fiscal year 2010 the Legislature approved all but $16 million of the BOR request for $894 million.

Largely, the disapproved requests fell under the category of Adjusted Base Requirements, which includes K-12 outreach programs, Engineering, Climate, Energy and Health Programs and Workforce and Campus Programs. Adjusted Base Requirements is also on the proposed budget this year for $25.4 million,  which is $2 million more than last year.