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My daughter, a lifelong Alaskan, is a student at the University of Alaska Southeast. Unfortunately, I cannot help her with tuition, so last year, her first year, she borrowed money from the federal government and the Alaska Advantage Program to the tune of almost $10,000. She earned a 3.5 grade-point average and made the dean's list.
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This year, she applied for 13 scholarships through the university system and received three for approximately $1,250 a semester. Her tuition alone is $2,399. Of that amount, $389 are fees due to the school for various things including a mandatory $130 recreation center fee, whether or not she uses the facility.
Part of attending school is being able to afford housing, food, utilities, books and transportation, as well as tuition. Even shared rent in Juneau is extremely high. Four months of rent in a shared apartment runs $1,600 for each roommate. It just all adds up and up and up. I want my daughter to be able to attend school and not be constantly worrying about where her money is coming from - without having to subsist on Top Ramen noodles three meals a day.
Recently, my daughter got a letter from the Alaska Advantage Program telling her that the interest on the school loan she borrowed last fall was being raised from 5.3 percent to 7.5 percent. That is more interest than I am paying on my house or my car. Now that she has those loans, my daughter cannot take a year off to earn additional money, because then she will have to start repaying the loans. I don't relish seeing my daughter in debt for loans to cover all four years at a campus that should be helping resident students make ends meet.
Why are there not more scholarships and grants available for Alaskan residents? The people at the financial aid office refer students to the Internet to look for scholarships. My feeling is that is we can afford to spend all the money we do on the University of Alaska system, we should first be able to guarantee that Alaskan students can afford to go there. How do we ensure that our kids get an education that will see them into the future as responsible wage-earners, heads of families who encourage their children to go to school, and future politicians and decision-makers?