To relieve state deficit pressure, Alaska lawmakers attempted to tap into money set aside for Alaska youth and higher education. SB 208, introduced March 28, would have eliminated the Alaska Performance Scholarship and the Alaska Education Grant Program. If the bill was to be put into action, no graduating high school student would be able to apply for the Alaska Performance Scholarship after July 15, 2016. On April 8 the bill died in the senate.
The Alaska legislature introduced the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund in 2010, which funds the Alaska Performance Scholarship, investing $400 million. With SB 208, the money would have been used for local governments and school districts in and around the state to ease pressure off the larger state budget crisis.
For many here at the University of Alaska Anchorage, the Alaska Performance Scholarship influenced their decision to stay in state for higher education.
“The performance scholarship was one of the main reasons I stayed in Alaska for school. UAA was not my first choice but with in-state tuition already being so low and then the performance scholarship on top? I couldn’t say no,” Ashley Roylance, a marketing student at UAA, said.
For some students, the scholarship is the reason they can attend school in the first place. With the rising cost of higher education across the nation, anything helps.
“The Alaska Performance Scholarship right now is what’s keeping me in school and pursuing my career. I think for students like me, it gives them an incentive to pay attention and aim for the highest in high school and college. If I didn’t have my scholarship, then I would have to take breaks in between school to work and earn money. Alaska for college is my only option to pursue an education and I can’t even imagine myself going out of state because of the expenses,” Mar Argel Fernandez, a nursing student, said.
As for other students, going to school in Alaska is the only option, with out-of-state tuition typically being much more expensive.
“I receive the highest tier of the scholarship and there is no way I would have stayed in state without it. It goes a long way towards covering my college costs. I also have the UA scholar award, but that covers far less of my expenses than the Alaska Performance Scholarship does. My sister also receives the same scholarships and stayed here because of it,” Johanna Richter, an economics and mathematics student, said.
Here in Alaska, many students will opt for out-of-state schools, with few outsiders finding schools in Alaska attractive, this creates a “brain-drain.” With a large migration of high school students leaving the state for school, and not coming back, and a minuscule sized group of people coming to school in Alaska and calling it home.
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, in the fall of 2008 (the most recent year available) Alaska had a net loss of 1,201 incoming freshman. This means that 1,434 graduated high school students left for school out-of-state, while 233 people from the outside enrolled in a school here in Alaska.
The scholarship, seen by many students as an investment, is an important part in Alaska’s education system, but also Alaska’s economy.
“I know that the Alaska Performance Scholarship is a contributing factor in keeping students to stay in school and to continue education. They should never remove the scholarships. They should instead remove the bill from their minds because it’s not going to help Alaska’s education and economy,” Fernandez said of the bill before it was killed in the senate.
For future growth in our schools and our state education is believed by many to be the place to start.
“If Alaska wants to continue to grow and wants the University to continue to grow, then they should not cut the performance scholarship. Education is the last thing they should be considering cutting at this point. Students that receive this scholarship are probably more likely to actually graduate in four years and are more inclined to staying in Alaska,” Roylance said.
On April 8 at 3:30 p.m., a group of student and community protesters walked around University Lake in protest of Senate Bill 208. College students, community members and local high school students were walking a mile around University Lake.
“There are plenty of other things we can do to change how much money we have in the state, but this is one of the main factors that many people in Alaska have a reason for going to college. My family doesn’t have any money for me to go to college. I’d have to work with debt or work. Tuition is a lot and the performance scholarship would go towards that cost,” Hunter LeFebvre, a sophomore at West High School, said.
The finance committee dropped the bill later that afternoon after hearing testimony from Diane Barrans, executive director of Alaska Commission on Post-secondary Education, and hearing of students and community members rallying in Anchorage against the bill.