JUNEAU — The state has paid nearly $8.7 million in student scholarships under a program championed by Gov. Sean Parnell as a way to transform Alaska’s education system.
A new report written by Brian Rae, an assistant director of research and analysis with the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, shows about 1,900 students have received Alaska Performance scholarships over the past two years. The report states that college freshman who received scholarships, on average, took fewer remedial course hours and more total hours than other freshmen in the University of Alaska system. More than 2,700 students who graduated high school in 2011 or 2012 remain eligible for aid under the program.
Stephanie Butler, director of program operations for the commission, said the commission is very excited about the program, which she said is showing early signs of success. But she and Rae both noted that two years does not make a trend.
Students must complete a set curriculum, graduate with at least a 2.5 grade point average and meet scoring thresholds on tests like the SAT to qualify for scholarships. Award levels range from $2,378 to $4,755 a year that can go toward college or career and technical educations in Alaska. The vast majority of scholarship recipients thus far have attended schools within the university system.
Qualified students have six years to use up to four years of state aid. About 100 2011 graduates got their first scholarship payments in the fall of 2012, according to the report.
In both years, students eligible for the highest award were the least likely to make use of the program, the report states. While the group is the one most likely to pursue post-secondary studies, the report says eligible students, in a survey by the commission, indicated a lack of programs of interest at Alaska schools as a reason they didn’t take the scholarship.
About 83 percent of eligible students who attended the University of Alaska in the fall of 2011 returned in the fall of 2012, which the report says is a persistence rate higher than the overall rate for UA students.
Parnell has cast scholarships as key to raising expectations for students and helping to change public education system marred by problems like lackluster graduation rates and truancy.
The program was created in 2010 but first funded in 2011. Parnell’s budget director said $8 million was provided for the program for the current fiscal year; $5.7 million was awarded for the 2012 school year. Nearly $3 million was awarded for the 2011 academic year. Parnell has requested $8 million for next fiscal year.
About 27 percent of last year’s high school graduates were eligible for scholarships, compared to about 29 percent in 2011, but slightly more of last year’s graduates, 37 percent, took advantage of awards in their first semester after leaving high school, according to the report. The report cites more rigorous eligibility requirements for 2012 graduates and suggests greater awareness of the program as a reason for why they were more likely to use their scholarships right away.
Among 2012 graduates, Caucasian students were 3 times more likely to be academically eligible for the program than Alaska Native or American Indian students but nearly 42 percent of eligible Alaska Native or American Indian students took their award, compared to 36 percent of eligible white students, the report states.
So far under the program, graduates from 48 of the state’s 54 school districts have been eligible for scholarships and students from 42 districts have made use of the aid, according to the report. Ten districts in 2011 and 11 last year had no eligible graduates. These included some of the smaller districts in the state, with a median graduating class of 13 in 2011 and 5 last year.