Alaska higher education falls short

State receives failing grade in affordability and participation

Posted: Thursday, December 04, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Alaska's higher education system has not made the grade, according to a recent national study.

The state fell short in three of five areas examined, according to a report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

This group evaluates how well higher education is serving the public.

The study covered:

• Affordability.

Alaska joined 48 other states in receiving failing grades. Only California received a passing grade, a C.

Alaska undergraduates borrow on average $5,427, one of the highest amounts nationally. For every Federal Pell Grant dollar, Alaska funded 6 cents.

• Preparation.

The study gave Alaska a C+ while saying the state made improvements in preparing its students.

By the time they reach age 24, about 89 percent of the Alaskans earn a high school diploma or a GED diploma. That's up from 87 percent since the early 1990s.

• Participation.

Better preparation has not translated into a passing participation grade, however. Alaska was one of three states to earn a failing assessment.

This was because 18 percent of the state's residents who are between 18 and 24 go on to higher education.

• Completion.

The study found that 67 percent of freshmen return for a second year, but 22 percent of first-time, full-time college students finish work toward a bachelor's degree within six years.

Saichi Oba, the University of Alaska's assistant vice president of student and enrollment services, said it's not easy to gauge Alaska's higher education system to other states because Alaska incorporates community colleges into the UA system.

"So our community college tuition appears high when compared to community college Outside; it's the premium we pay for proximity," Oba said in an e-mail. "Because of this, UA always gets marked down for affordability along with the lack of adequate needs-based aid in the state."

• Benefits.

Alaska recorded a C+. The category examines how a state benefits by having more people pursue higher education.

In UA's case, the number of degrees awarded to Native students doubled from fiscal year 2001 to fiscal year 2007.

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