College bound students in the state of Alaska may have a tougher time covering the cost of an education after the state Senate approved a bill that would reduce the Alaska Performance Scholarships as well as eliminate a need-based financial aid program.
In April, the Senate signed off on the bill which now goes to the Alaska house for a vote according to ADN.com. Instead of increasing funding for the Alaska Performance Scholarship and keeping the Alaska Education Grant intact, proceeds from the reduced spending will provide high schools with grants to create innovative learning programs.
In the bill passed by the Alaska Senate, lawmakers said that grants will go to school districts for programs that change the method of interaction between students and teachers in the classroom. One example includes delivering instructions via technologies such as video, interactive software, games and social media, and pilot projects that enable teachers to bring new instructional approaches to the classroom.
What the bill also does is eliminate two levels of the Alaska Performance Scholarship which means now only high school students with a 3.5 grade point average or higher will be able to access state scholarships. The students get a maximum of $4,755 a year to attend a state college, university, or a technical program.
In addition to cutting access to scholarship opportunities, the bill would completely eliminate the Alaska Education Grant which goes to students in the state with financial need and plan to pursue an undergraduate degree or certificate program in the state.
Supporters of the bill argue that coming up with the funding to prepare high school students for 21st century learning is necessary and that the new grant program will fund those efforts. But detractors argue that this will result in fewer high school students being able to afford a college education in the state.
“What this bill does is it makes thousands of Alaskans pay thousands of dollars more to go to school,” Democrat Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who voted against the bill, told ADN.com. “This will deny thousands of Alaskans the ability to go to college in Alaska. Shouldn’t we be doing the exact opposite?” Critics noted that the new grant program for high schools comes against the back drop of budget cuts for public school funding which Alaska Senator Tom Begich, also a Democrat, said got cut to the tune of $69 million.
Lawmakers backing the scholarship and grant reductions may think they are doing the right thing but it does come at a time when a lot of college students in the state are struggling with debt. According to recent data from LendEDU Alaska college graduates owe on average $26,669 in student debt which is just under the national average of around $28,000. More than half of graduates in the state owe at least one loan, and while the state is home to some low cost public colleges, it also has pricey ones. To put it in perspective, the University of Alaska Southeast leaves graduate borrowers with an average student debt load of $16,408, but the University of Alaska Fairbanks is closer to the national average with an average debt load of $27,805.
Author: Dave Rathmanner
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