University advocates seek to preserve Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund

Since the 30th Alaska State Legislature began its second session Jan. 16, Government Relations employees from the University of Alaska have been advocating the protection of the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund and the renewal of the Alaska Education Tax Credit.

The Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund is managed like the Permanent Fund Dividend, with a principal, or original sum of money, that is invested. Earnings from investments fund the Alaska Performance Scholarship and the Alaska Education Grant.

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Photo credit: Jian Bautista

Government relations officials from the University of Alaska are advocating that the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund is used only for the APS and AEG. In the past, the fund has been used for K-12 funding, the WWAMI program and even retirement programs in the state. Associate Vice President of Government Relations, Miles Baker, is in Juneau this semester working with legislators to keep the principal of the fund untouched.

“The legislature has been tapping into that fund to pay for other [programs],” Baker said. “If they spend it at the rate that they’ve been spending they may potentially not earn enough money to continue to support those scholarships and the education grant.”

During the first session of the 30th State Legislature, the Senate introduced and passed a bill that would change the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund into the Alaska Education Innovation Grant Fund that could be requested by school districts around the state.

“An Act establishing the Alaska education innovation grant program; eliminating the Alaska education grant program and the Alaska performance scholarship program; redesignating the Alaska higher education investment fund as the Alaska education innovation grant fund; and providing for an effective date,” Senate Bill 103 read.

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Members of the University of Alaska community have also advocated for the APS to remain in its current form with three levels of scholarships for students with varying degrees of merit.

While the APS can be used at other higher education institutions in the state, 98 percent of APS recipients attend the University of Alaska, according to the APS Outcomes Report from the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education. UAA has the largest percentage of APS recipients with 60 percent of all recipients attending UAA in fiscal year 2018.

Executive Director of the ACPE, Stephanie Butler, said the scholarship’s requirements have had a significant impact on high school curriculum.

“Prior to the APS, we didn’t have a rigorous curriculum available in all of the high schools in Alaska,” Butler said. “There is now a rigorous curriculum available to all Alaska high school students. Just in terms of that, the impact has been enormous.”

Butler said ACPE is also demonstrating their support for a maintained Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund through resolutions.

“The commission has issued a resolution in support of APS and [has] also work[ed] with other organizations to put together resolutions that present that to the legislature,” Butler said.

Butler said she hears praise for the APS and AEG and that the culture of higher education would be very different without the scholarship and grant.

“It would be much more challenging for students to go to school in Alaska, especially students who don’t have immediate access to the resources they need to be able to afford higher education,” Butler said.

Another big priority for UA’s government relations professionals is to extend the Alaska Education Tax Credit. The tax credit is an incentive for corporations and businesses around the state to donate to education-related institutions for a credit against taxes they owe in corporate income taxes.

“The reason we are talking about it with the legislature now is because several years ago the legislature went in and put sunset clauses into a lot of the credit programs that we have in the state so that they would expire. So the sunset, the expiration date of the current tax program is December 2018,” Jim Johnsen, UA president, said.

Baker said UA has, “benefited in the range $5-7 million a year in industry partners that contribute to various programs at the university” because of the tax credit.

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development says that industries that pay for the fisheries business tax, mining tax, oil and gas property tax and more qualify for this credit.

This piece is the second installment in a series previewing the University of Alaska’s legislative advocacy goals this semester. Pick up a paper next week to learn about the University of Alaska’s efforts regarding the federal land grant.