Alaska college scholarships poised to see first boost in years

JUNEAU — Alaska students are poised to see a substantial increase to two college scholarships intended to keep them studying and living in Alaska.

House Bill 148 broadly passed the Legislature on the final day of the legislative session. The measure would boost the maximum amount of an Alaska Performance Scholarship from $4,755 to $7,000 per year and expand the program’s eligibility qualifications.

The merit-based scholarship has not been boosted since the program was established in 2011. Tuition at the University of Alaska has risen substantially over the same period — the current cost per year for in-state students is about $6,500, not including room and board.

Recipients can use the performance scholarship at 24 institutions, including at the University of Alaska, community colleges, and technical training centers.

Meanwhile, the university’s Board of Regents voted unanimously on Thursday to raise the UA Scholars Award from $12,000 to $15,000 — the first increase since 2016. The award is offered to the top 10% of Alaska high school students to then study at the University of Alaska, or its community colleges.

Alaskan students eligible for both programs could soon get up to $1,500 more per semester to study in state.

Both scholarships are paid from funds expected to be able to absorb the higher awards.


Supporters hope the scholarship increases could help boost Alaska’s low college graduation rates, and help reverse a long-term decline in the state’s working-age population. They point to data that shows students who take the performance scholarship are more likely to stay and live in Alaska than those who don’t.

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“The legislature’s commitment to the Alaska Performance Scholarship is instrumental in meeting Alaska’s workforce needs,” said Pat Pitney, president of the University of Alaska, through a prepared statement on Thursday. “I appreciate their willingness to invest in our students and our state’s workforce in such a meaningful way.”

Surveys by the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, which manages the performance scholarship, routinely find the cost of college is the No. 1 concern facing prospective postsecondary students.

Sana Efird, the commission’s executive director, said with the higher award, and other grants, that students could have their tuition and other college expenses paid for. In an interview on Friday, she said, “that’s huge.”

“We’re gonna do everything in our power to advertise this, get into the schools, and help as much as we can to educate our students on what’s available, so they can utilize this program,” she said.

HB 148 contains several key changes to how the performance scholarship is managed. Career and technical education could be used to qualify, and students could use their grade-point average or a standardized test score, instead of both.

The scholarship would also be awarded after students’ junior year. High-schoolers currently get the scholarship after they graduate, but many have already made their college decisions before then. Other students don’t realize they need to also apply for federal student aid to qualify.

Pitney said on Thursday that the late notification for the performance scholarship has hindered the University of Alaska from boosting local enrollment.

“We couldn’t use it as a recruiting tool,” she said.

The performance scholarship has faced a series of challenges in recent years, including declining participation. More than 3,400 Alaska students took the scholarship in 2017. By last year, that had fallen by 45% to 1,849 students.

The postsecondary commission released a report in January, which found only one-third of eligible students took the scholarship in 2023. Half of those students chose to study outside Alaska instead.

Efird said a goal of boosting the award was to increase participation by keeping pace with rising college costs.

“It really is a tool to help keep Alaskans in Alaska,” she said. “We hope that it will be a big incentive to keep students here.”

As of Friday, HB 148 had not yet been transmitted to Gov. Mike Dunleavy for his consideration. A spokesperson for the governor’s office said on Wednesday that Dunleavy would review the bill, and then decide whether to sign the measure, veto it or let it pass into law without his signature.

University representatives expressed confidence on Thursday that the scholarship bill would soon become law.

“We’re in conversations with the governor’s office right now for a quick signing. It’s on his shortlist to expedite,” said Chad Hutchinson, the university’s director of state relations, to the Board of Regents on Thursday.


If HB 148 does become law, Efird said there are discussions with the state education department to see if school districts can identify students who may meet the new eligibility qualifications this year. But that is not guaranteed.

The program changes, and the higher awards, would be in place for next school year’s graduates, Efird said.

Meanwhile, the UA Scholars Award is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Although the award has been used by fewer students than the performance scholarship — 312 new students last fall — Pitney, on Thursday, said it has been “meaningful.” The $15,000 award will be in place for the upcoming fall semester.

”It is a scholarship that has paid dividends and done a lot to lower the barrier to entry, and make attendance at one of our universities possible for people,” said Jonathon Taylor, a spokesperson for the university on Tuesday. “And so the main goal is to continue making post-secondary education accessible, all around, for students across the state.”

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Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at