Senator wants to include nontraditional students in scholarships

Posted: Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Senate President Gary Stevens on Monday proposed allowing nontraditional students to be eligible for the governor's proposed merit scholarship program, a change that state education officials said would drive up costs unpredictably.

Through a staff member, the Kodiak Republican introduced an amendment in the Senate Education Committee to eliminate a 6-year post-high school eligibility period for the scholarships.

Alaska Education Commissioner Larry LeDoux and Diane Barrans, executive director of the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, told the committee that nontraditional students are outside the scope of Gov. Sean Parnell's proposal, which is primarily intended to motivate K-12 students to challenge themselves and to improve schools.

Parnell is asking for $400 million set aside from which investment earnings would provide scholarships for in-state tuition or professional training. Graduating Alaska high schoolers earning at least a C+ average and completing a rigorous course schedule would be eligible.

In committee discussion last week, Stevens said he'd be disappointed if nontraditional students were left out.

"There is not going to be another large scholarship bill in my lifetime. There's just not," the retired professor said. "It would be a shame to leave out nontraditional students."

Barrans said Monday that the change would drive up costs, especially when combined with a new needs-based component the administration has offered to help address concerns raised by lawmakers. Students who qualify on merit but still require financial aid would receive a chunk of that unmet need through the provision.

Unmet need would be determined through the FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Barrans said someone who postpones going to college typically incurs more debts and has more obligations, compounding the amount of financial aid the state would offer.

University of Alaska student leaders - many of whom had not gone straight from high school to college - recently urged lawmakers to include nontraditional students in the plan.

The committee did not act on the amendment but plans to draft a new version of the bill this week incorporating several amendments.

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