Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial
A multi-year effort to complete state scholarship and grant programs for motivated Alaska high school students finally concluded last week with Gov. Sean Parnell’s signature on legislation that cleans up some important details and creates the necessary accounts to hold the money.
The programs should create significant incentives for students to work hard in high school. Within a few years, we should know whether they’re working. They have in other states; they should here as well.
A scholarship program has been a priority for Parnell since he became governor. The Legislature passed HB 104 this spring, but Parnell waited for schools to begin this year before signing the bill at Unalaska High School on Thursday.
The legislation creates a state account to hold money for the Alaska Performance Scholarship program and the AlaskAdvantage need-based grant program, which already were in law. The Legislature also already set aside $400 million for the programs in 2011. The act formalizes the way in which the money will be held. It also allows tax credits for businesses that donate to the fund.
The scholarship program provides either $2,378, $3,566 or $4,755 for students to attend an Alaska college or vocational institution if they have taken a rigorous list of high school courses. The award levels depend upon their grade point averages and scores on college entrance exams. The grant program offers from $500 to $3,000 per year to Alaska high school graduates who demonstrate financial need and enroll in an undergraduate college or vocational certificate program in Alaska. Seven percent of the amount in the state account will be available each year; two-thirds of that money to go to the scholarships; one-third is for the grants.
The act signed by Parnell last week fine tunes the programs in some worthwhile ways. It creates a process that allows students to apply for the scholarship within 24 months of graduating from high school. They will be eligible if they have completed the requirements and show that they were unable to do so in high school because of illness, disability or “a lack of reasonable access to the required coursework at a small or remote high school attended by the applicant in the state.”
The legislation also tightens up the definitions of what type of post-secondary institution a student may attend on scholarship. Such institutions must have student advisors to counsel incoming students about courses, career choices and other issues. The institutions also must actually provide the courses needed to get a degree or certificate within the advertised time frame. Both are wise additions to the law.
These programs represent a substantial opportunity for all Alaska students who want to apply themselves. The governor has been convinced that this can transform the quality of education that students seek and receive in Alaska. Alaska’s students can now get to work proving him right.