Alaska Performance Scholarship, Education Grant under fire from legislature

Danny Fisher / Editor-in-Chief

Last Tuesday the Alaska Senate discussed SB 208, which would make high school seniors graduating in 2016 the last class to receive the state-funded Alaska Performance Scholarship (APS) or Alaska Education Grant (AEG).  As students exit the programs over the next six years, the amount allocated to the APS and AEG would be decreased annually.  The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

In 2010 the Alaska legislature established the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund with an initial investment of $400 million.  The APS and AEG are distributed to eligible students each semester from the returns of the account.  This year, the amount allocated to APS and AEG was $17.3 million.

SB 208 was proposed in conjunction with a suite of bills, 207, 209 and 210.  These would increase the responsibility of local governance in providing for teacher and state employee pensions and decrease state direction of oil revenue to Alaska communities.  If SB 208 is passed, the money currently set aside to fund the APS and AEG will be used to subsidize the increased fiscal responsibility of local governments, Senator Pete Kelly said at a related news conference.

Colby Freel, student representative to the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, has received resolutions from ASUAF, the UA Coalition of Student Leaders and the Union of Students at the University of Alaska Anchorage.  All of the resolutions oppose the bill on the grounds that the APS increases high school achievement and opportunity for young people to pursue postsecondary education, and improves the likelihood of students to remain in Alaska after obtaining a certification or college degree.

“What I hear from students is that without the Alaska Performance Scholarship and without the Alaska Education Grant, they either wouldn’t have attended any sort of higher education, or they would have sought education outside of the state,” Freel said.  This results in the continuation of a “brain drain,” where young people go to school and pursue careers out of state, according to Freel.

“It’s like a vote of no confidence,” Freel said of the bill, if it were to pass.  “If the state sees that education is not something worth investing in, why would I as a potential student look to invest my time and money in an education here?”

The UAF office of financial aid reported that 1119 Fairbanks campus students received the APS in the fall of 2015.  Another 361 students received the AEG this spring.  About 15 percent of UAF students during the 2015-2016 academic year relied on the programs, according to information provided by the UAF Financial Aid Office and the Stats and Facts and Figures webpage.

“We still have a program of ‘Pick.Click.Give’ of our college savings of our PFD that captures all students,” Senator Click Bishop said during the Senate discussion.  “So it’s not that I’m unsympathetic, but that total is still out there. And I know for myself that’s how we saved for my kids’ college education, and now I’m saving for my grandkids’ education with that same tool that’s out there in the toolbox.”

Senator Pete Kelly added that the UA Scholars award, provided by the UA system to high school seniors in the top ten percent of their class based on GPA, will remain available.

Freel will fly to Juneau to meet with the ACPSE on Tuesday, where they will discuss the bill.  He will also attend the public testimony session with the Senate Finance Committee.  Colby officially represents college students from all UA campuses, however he feels it is also his responsibility to speak on behalf of high school students incorporate such awards into their college budgets.

Community members who wish to participate in discussion concerning SB 208 may do so by emailing written testimony to their senators or to the Senate Finance Committee.  http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Committee/Details/29?code=SFIN#tab1_7

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