Governor Parnell introduces new scholarship for Alaska students

Gov. Sean Parnell revealed a major education initiative on Oct. 6 that could pay up to 100 percent of college tuition for in-state students. High school graduates must have four years of math, language arts and science to qualify for the governor’s performance scholarship. Students with an A average after graduating would receive a 100 percent tuition scholarship, students with a B average would be awarded a 75 percent scholarship and C average students would receive 50 percent of tuition.

“By giving more students the opportunity to earn a scholarship like this and by requiring it to be used at an in-state institution, we are building a better-trained workforce for Alaska and giving young people hope for their future,” Parnell said.

Funds for the GPA would come from an endowment that the governor will ask the legislature to create.

Funds from Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund and Statutory Budget Reserve Fund would be set aside, the earnings from the endowment would then create the funds for the proposed scholarship. Parnell is asking that $400 million be set aside for the fund.

The proposal must first go though the legislative process in Alaska.

“Is it perfect as it’s currently laid out? Probably not, and that’s OK, that’s what the legislative process is all about,” said Kate Ripley, director of Public Affairs, “There will be plenty of time to look this proposal over in detail.”

Alaska State Sen. Con Bunde expressed his concerns about the initial draft of the proposal.

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“In the last budget cycle the legislature spent $1.4 billion more than the state earned, at that rate reserves would be gone in three years,” Bunde said, “In three years the state would be broke, yet $400 million would be set aside in the endowment, would the public demand that that money be used in state services?”

Georgia has a similar program called the Georgia HOPE scholarship. High school students in Georgia must maintain a 3.0 average to receive a full tuition scholarship to also cover fees and books up to a certain amount. The funds for the HOPE scholarship initially came from a lottery instituted in Georgia with the specific purpose to fund educational programs. The HOPE scholarship is only guaranteed for one year, after which a student must maintain a B average to continue receiving funds. Four years after the creation of the Georgia HOPE scholarship, only 43 percent of students qualified for continued support after one year, according to a study published in the Southern Economic Journal.

“Ultimately, if it came down to how much it would cost I would prefer to see it exist with an income cap under $100,000,” said Ted Malone, UAA director of Financial Assistance, “Would the student have to maintain a college GPA to receive the scholarship?”

Bunde suggested the scholarship be awarded after the student finishes school in order to ensure retention. However, if the student had to maintain a certain GPA Bunde was concerned that professors would find it difficult to be the ones to cost students their scholarships.”

Despite current controversy in the details, Malone thinks the scholarship would increase success overall.

“There are vast amounts of unmet need and students who are borrowing money at UAA,” said Malone, “[The GPA] would be a rising tide, it would raise all boats.”

Financial aid that would otherwise be given to students eligible for the GPA would be given to other students. The GPA would increase the overall number of students receiving financial assistance.

Students who receive the UA Scholars scholarship would still be eligible for the GPA. Whereas the GPA would only cover tuition costs, UA Scholars can cover books, fees and housing.

If it is passed by the legislature, Ripley it would help to increase financial aid options in the state of Alaska.

“The Governor’s Performance Scholarship would be beneficial not only to UA, but to the state as whole,” she said. “There will be plenty of time to look this proposal over in detail. Alaska as a state needs increased financial aid, of all kinds of stripes, including merit- and needs-based aid.”

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