Alaska editorial: A GPS for life: Governor's scholarship plan deserves approval

Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010

The Legislature should approve Gov. Sean Parnell's proposal to give merit-based scholarships to Alaska high school students who want to attend a university or technical school in Alaska.

The governor's plan is similar to the successful UA Scholars program but has several advantages. The scholars plan, operated by the University of Alaska from its internal funding sources, offers a scholarship to any student whose grade point average puts him or her in the top 10 percent of a graduating class.

The governor's proposal is more specific and thereby creates greater incentives for students and their schools to perform well.

The Governor's Performance Scholarships would go to students who take a rigorous set of courses. The better their grades, the higher their scholarships. The best students would have their tuition paid to institutions within Alaska, a value of up to $4,800 per year at present.

This plan, modeled after those adopted in nearly half the states, creates incentives for students to work hard, for their parents to work with them and for school districts to offer a challenging curriculum.

The increasing reward scale in the plan would dispel the feeling among some students that they can't perform well enough academically to obtain a scholarship. Under the governor's plan, even mid-range students can see a real possibility of help with university or technical school costs if they just take the courses and maintain a modest GPA.

The governor's original plan was criticized by some because it would offer the same scholarships to all qualifying students, regardless of need.

Parnell had good reason for proposing a strictly merit-based scholarship. Part of the governor's goal is to encourage the brightest students, regardless of whether they or their families have money enough for college, to stay in Alaska and help contribute to the state. His plan creates a powerful pull in that direction.

Nevertheless, the governor last week offered an amendment that would add a needs-based component to the program.

That amendment in no way weakens the fundamental merit-based nature of the proposal, though, and that's as it should be. To qualify for aid, all students would still be required to meet the academic standards. But, under the governor's amendment, those who could demonstrate financial need of greater than $2,000 could apply for additional assistance.

GPS is a well-known acronym for "global positioning system," the navigation aid that employs satellite signals. The Governor's Performance Scholarship also is a navigational aid of sorts. It will help guide Alaska's young people toward higher levels of learning and better careers - preferably in Alaska. The Legislature should work expeditiously to approve it.

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