FAIRBANKS - Alaska's investment in financial grants for higher education to students in need is low compared to other states, a national higher education advocacy group has concluded.
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The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education released a report Thursday that said the state is not doing enough to make higher education affordable for students.
The report also said a large number of students who enroll full-time at Alaska's colleges and universities are not finishing a degree within six years.
The Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education made $500,000 available for need-based grants to help low-income students pay for college.
Other states offer more. According to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, the national average of needs-based financial aid offered at the state level is $6 million.
State Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, co-chairman of the University Oversight Committee, said Alaska has a liberal student loan program.
"But it's not a grant," he said.
Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, said the University of Alaska and the Legislature last session worked on a need-based aid program.
"We said no this time because, frankly, it didn't seem like the program had been very well thought-out," Wilken said.
Sven Gilkey, president of Associated Students of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said he is an example of a student who has paid for a college education with student loans. Thanks to a federal Pell Grant and accumulated Alaska Permanent Fund dividends, Gilkey said, he paid for his first two years of college out of pocket. Now in his sixth year of school, he has accumulated $14,000 in debt.