UAA Students speak to lawmakers in Juneau, advocate for UAA

Increased Alaska Performance Scholarship money, textbook transparency and higher student base allocations are all up for discussion in this legislative session.

Hannah Huber (USUAA Senator and Public Relations Officer), Katie Scoggin (USUAA Student Body President) and Macchlessy Dinganga (USUAA Senator and Chair of Student Academic Affairs) in Juneau.

From Feb. 26 through March 1, three members of UAA’s student government, USUAA, along with other students representing other UA campuses, flew out to Juneau to advocate for legislation that would impact the university. 

The students who attended the trip were USUAA student body president Katie Scoggin, USUAA Senator and Public Relations Officer Hannah Huber and USUAA Senator and Chair of Student Academic Affairs Macchlessy Dinganga. 

UAA students only had 15 minutes at a time with legislators, and they were often paired with other advocacy groups. Scoggin said some meetings were relaxed, while some could be quite stressful depending on the legislator. 

One of the pieces of legislation that USUAA representatives asked legislators to support was House Bill 10, also known as the Textbook Cost Transparency Act. House Bill 10 would require University of Alaska courses to provide descriptions of required course materials, disclose any zero-cost materials, and disclose any associated fees that would be required for those materials. 

Scoggin says that this bill would be another step in transparency for students, and help college students better budget for the classes they take.

“Something that had been brought to my attention, I believe it was a nursing student, they had budgeted for the semester and they were not told that they needed course materials. So then, the week of, whenever they get their syllabus, that’s a huge surprise.” Said Scoggin, “They don’t have the funds for that. How are they going to get the money? I feel like that’s something students struggle with more than we see.”

This bill is currently in discussion in the House. If it is passed through the legislature, it would go into effect July 2026.

A second piece of legislation USUAA advocated for is House Bill 65, which would increase the base student allocation– how much the government pays per K-12 student– from $5,960 to $7,210. Alaska’s base student allocation has been unchanged since 2017.

Scoggin said that though this doesn’t directly impact the university, increasing the base student allocation would be an indirect impact.

“Investing in K-12 education also impacts the university because we know that … our middle college programs or dual enrollment programs have been so successful at ... streamlining students from high school into higher education.” Scoggin also said that investing in K-12 education may be a way of making sure people stay in the state. 

HB65 is currently still in discussion in the House. 

Another bill that students advocated for is House Bill 31, which would bring massive changes to the current Alaska Performance Scholarship. House Bill 31 would increase funding to each tier of the Alaska Performance Scholarship, making the highest tier $7,000 instead of $4,775, the middle tier $5,250 instead of $3,566, and the lowest tier $3,500 instead of $2,378. The bill would also increase Alaska Performance Scholarship eligibility to eight years after high school graduation instead of six. 

Scoggin said increasing funding to the Alaska Performance Scholarship is vital. “[The Alaska Performance Scholarship] is still very, very helpful, but it doesn’t cover anywhere near the amount that it used to.” She said, “If you’re not increasing the funds, you might as well be making a cut due to inflation.”

HB31 is still in discussion in the House. 

Scoggin said that one final priority of the trip was talking to legislators about deferred maintenance. With emergency telephones down, a broken elevator in East Hall, boiler failures in Rasmussen Hall and the Professional Studies Building, pipe failures, flooding, and more happening this semester, UAA has asked for substantial funding in deferred maintenance costs this year. 

According to UAA’s Facilities Conditions Index in the Facilities Needs 2022 Annual Report, the facilities with the most critical needs are the MAC and Templewood Apartments at Residence Life. 

“The reality is, if our buildings close because of these failures and all of these maintenance issues, so do programs. And when our programs start closing, we start losing students,” said Scoggin. 

Scoggin said participating in this trip and being able to advocate on behalf of UAA was a “once in a lifetime experience.”

“I think being in the state capitol made me realize how even more strongly how crucial it is for people to get their stories out.”

In an email with The Northern Light, USUAA Senator and Chair of Student & Academic Affairs Macchelssy Dinganga wrote that this trip was one of her “biggest dreams come true”. 

“​​This trip taught me that my voice had [more] power than I expected. Back at home, having this opportunity  to meet with legislators who are welcoming and willing to hear you out is so difficult, so doing that here is a great privilege.”