University of Alaska will not fund emergency scholarship

The University of Alaska will not be funding a proposed emergency scholarship fund for students despite an announcement introducing the scholarship by a UA regent.

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Photo credit: Jian Bautista

UA student regent Joey Sweet sent out an email on May 17 informing students about the emergency scholarship fund, writing that the university would offer the program in fall of 2019. He asked for student feedback regarding the ways in which the university could help students succeed.

The email did not include details emphasizing that the fund was specifically a request made by UAF.

“I highlighted it and sent it to everybody before the budget was finalized and part of me knew that, by doing so, I would run the risk of this exact scenario playing out of highlighting it for everybody and then, by some means or another, it would not come to fruition,” Sweet said. “But I had enough faith that our legislature was going to increase [our budget] by a sufficient amount that, in terms of the priorities, this would still land on the list, but it just didn’t work out that way.”

The proposal was a request made by UAF as part of the FY19 UA 2025 goals and measures.

Creating an emergency scholarship fund for students was a line item within the first goal for increasing degree attainment with the aim to help students’ completion.

Mary Kreta, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management at UAF, said that the campus already has a program that assists students who have found themselves in difficult financial situations. It is intended to be quick, particularly when there are upcoming deadlines, and it is “responsive to the needs of students.”

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“UAF has long had an emergency scholarship program that we have given out at the beginning of the fall and spring semesters to help students who, due to unforeseen circumstances that they could not have predicted or planned, were short on paying their tuition and fees,” Kreta said.

UAF has a central budget from which the Office of Admissions can pull money for students, but that pool has gotten smaller over the years.

“There is usually money left at the beginning of the semester that was unclaimed… We use that money in order to provide the emergency scholarships,” Kreta said. “In the last few years, the budget for the scholarships has gotten smaller and so in [academic years 2016-2017] the program was actually stopped because we didn’t have enough.”

Kreta added that UA provided $150,000 to UAF for scholarships and a portion went to emergency scholarships.

Keith Champagne is UAF’s vice chancellor for Student Affairs and he said that there are a number of deserving students from various backgrounds who might not have the money to put towards their education.

“It provides us an opportunity to retain students and graduate them successfully from the University of Alaska Fairbanks so they become excellent alumni out there and they remain connected to the university,” Champagne said.

“I don’t believe, philosophically, that a student, who is doing well academically, who’s an asset to the university, should leave the university because of the lack of financial resources,” he added.

The UA Board of Regents requested $341 million in unrestricted general funds for fiscal year 2019 from the state but was given $327 million, which is $10 million more than what Gov. Bill Walker had proposed.

The proposed operating budget plan for FY 2019 was based on the assumption that the university would receive the requested $341 million. Now that the budget has been approved, the BOR had to make adjustments and shift funding priorities.

“In order to fund initiatives thought to be of greater impact for our students and our programs, UAF’s proposal was not funded,” UA President Jim Johnsen wrote in an email.

Sweet had run his drafts by correspondents at the statewide office but said that he hadn’t asked if the email should be sent out, despite the possibility that the emergency scholarship pool would not be funded.

“It is completely and entirely my fault,” Sweet said.

Each campus still has its own process of aiding students who need quick financial assistance, but UAF’s intentions were to ensure the longevity and success of the program.

“What we were looking to do was solidify a specific dollar amount because right now it’s a little bit influx, depending on our budget,” Kreta said. “So we were wanting to ensure its longevity by having this dollar amount tied to it, specifically to support the program.”

Although the funding for the emergency scholarship pool will not be considered for FY 2019, there is a possibility it may come up for consideration again when the board discusses the budget plan for FY 2020.

“We don’t have money in the budget for it right now because it would for [fall 2019], so that’s the next budget cycle. That’s the budget cycle we’re starting to plan for,” Paul Layer, UA vice president of Academic and Student Affairs, said.

“If this is something that the board really wants us to pursue… that’s something that we will work into our budget request and make it more formal rather than having it be informal,” Layer said.

Sonya Stein, director of UAA’s Office of Financial Aid, said she would support a statewide implementation of emergency scholarship funds set aside for the campuses to use.

“Who knows what’s going to happen in the future? Without it being specifically earmarked and just under the Financial Aid Office discretion to use a portion of it as emergency scholarships, what could potentially happen in two, three, five or ten years?”

“I do think there’s incredible value in having money specifically earmarked for that fund,” Stein said.

Students who are interested in or have questions about emergency scholarships can contact their Dean of Students, Chancellor or Office of Financial Aid.