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Alaska editorial: College-bound Alaskans should consider UA schools first

Posted: Thursday, May 03, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Peninsula Clarion:

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University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton makes a compelling pitch that when students are considering where to go to college they should take a look at the UA system. On the Kenai Peninsula last week, Hamilton presented his case to the area high school students. Among his selling points:

• A quality faculty and academic excellence ("My faculty is as good a faculty as you will meet anywhere. We hire from the national, international market.");

• Proximity to students' support network ("Virtually everyone gets homesick," noted Hamilton, adding that nationwide, 82 percent of students go to college in their home state and 80 percent of the remainder go to a college within a five-hour drive of home);

• Smaller classes in which students are taught by professors, not teaching assistants;

• The practicality of attending UA during the first two years, since no matter where students go to college they will be doing the same thing: finishing their general education requirements before they start focusing on their major;

• A relatively low tuition; and

• The fact that the university works closely with employers in the state, including the unions, to offer the kind of training the state's work force needs.

Hamilton's most convincing argument, however, was this: The university wants Alaska students. Wants them enough for the highest-ranking official in the university system to visit with them and say: When you are considering college, don't make a decision without first looking at what's in your home state. Wants them enough to provide $11,000 scholarships to the top 10 percent of every graduating class in Alaska. Wants them enough to work with employers to make sure the university offers the training they will need for good jobs, the kind of jobs that will keep students here long after they graduate from college.

The bottom line of the message: There's a future for students in Alaska. That's a message that needs to be hammered home, because too many students who leave the state for college don't return to find jobs and raise their families. And we desperately need them, their ideas and their energy.

We couldn't agree with Hamilton more that the University of Alaska system should be a first choice for students graduating from Alaska's high schools, but we disagree with him that they shouldn't be afraid of a student loan to finance their education.

While a college education is one of the best investments a person can make in themselves and their future, it's an even better investment if it can be made without going into debt. The interest rate on student loans may be "ridiculously tiny" in Hamilton's words, but there is no such thing as free money.

Consider this: Nationwide, the average college student graduates with $27,000 in college loan debt and $3,800 total debt on multiple credit cards. That debt automatically limits students' choices when it comes to getting a job. Instead of pursuing their passion, they have to pursue the job that will get them out of debt. Thankfully, college grads between the ages of 25-34 make an average of $14,000 a year more than those with high school diplomas to help them pay that debt.

Is there a better way?

You be the judge. Today there are even services that charge a fee to help students and their families navigate the paperwork and find the best deal possible when it comes to financing a college education. These services urge families to view college like they do other major purchases. What college best fits their educational and financial needs? Which college will offer them the best deal?

One of those services, College Assistance Plus, offers a variety of resources on its Web site as students and their parents look for ways to finance a college education.

As high school students think about their future, we hope it includes the University of Alaska. We also hope students can make the investment of a college education without going into debt or by minimizing that debt as much as possible.



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