Gov. Mike Dunleavy

Kevin Goodman/Office of the governor

Kevin Goodman/Office of the governor

Gov. Mike Dunleavy talks with the media outside the Westmark Hotel after meeting June 10 with the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce.

Merit scholarships for high school seniors, grants for income-eligible students, and assistance for Alaska medical students will receive immediate funds, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office announced Thursday.

“Alaska’s students who worked hard and excelled and chose to stay in Alaska deserve stability in their university education,” Dunleavy said.

The governor directed the state Office of Management and Budget to allocate funding in the fiscal year 2022 budget, which started July 1. The programs were at risk, after lawmakers failed to pass a measure to effectively renew funding through a constitutional budget reserve.

Speaker of the House Louise Stutes sent a letter to Dunleavy asking him to act on the college scholarships, among other important programs at risk.

Attorney General Treg Taylor determined the state could continue the funding. “The programs were funded in the state operating budget that was passed and signed into law before the end of the FY21 fiscal year,” said Jeff Turner, the governor’s deputy director of communications.

Recipients “can rest assured the funding for their post-secondary education is secure,” Dunleavy said.

2,000 eligible high school seniors

More than 2,000 high school seniors each year become eligible for the Alaska Performance Scholarship for high-achieving students enrolling in Alaska colleges. A recent survey showed that the Alaska scholarship award influenced decisions for the vast majority of recipients and their families.

At University of Alaska Fairbanks, about 900 students on average receive the Alaska Performance Scholarship each year. In addition, the Alaska Education Grant is awarded to 500-700 income-eligible UAF students.

The funds help cover tuition, fees, books, supplies, and room and board, said Ashley Munro, associate director of financial aid at UAF.

“We are grateful the programs were funded,” Munro said. At the same time, the lack of certainty has created challenges for Alaska students planning for college, she said.

“This has consistently been a legislative funding issue for several years,” Munro said. “It makes it hard for students to count on the scholarship. We know students who leave Alaska to accept grants and scholarships in the Lower 48, because of the lack of certainty.”

Critical to Alaska’s future

UA President Pat Pitney welcomed news of the continued state funding. “This means our students who have earned these scholarships and grants can be assured of funding for their education this year,” Pitney said in a message to the UA community.

Pitney announced in July that UA would honor funding for the state scholarships and grants sidelined by delaying receipt of payment from the state.

“This action today assures stable year-long program funding,” Pitney said Wednesday. “This decision recognizes these programs as critical to the future of Alaska and the well-being of our students who want to study and earn their degree or job training at one of our three universities.”

UA will work to assure that funds continue in the future. “With this year’s scholarships and grant funding secured, we will now focus our attention on ensuring the source of funding for these programs, the Higher Education Investment Fund, is restored so these programs are funded for the long term.”

The Higher Education Investment Fund has been tapped over the years to help pay for programs unrelated to higher education that include state museum and library operations, as well as assistance to public employees and teachers’ retirement programs.

Contact Linda F. Hersey at 907-459-7575 or by email at lhersey@newsminer.com. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.