Voice

Spotlight: UA Foundation -- Scholarships

Cost of College

The average student pays an estimated $5,900 in tuition and fees for a year at the University of Alaska; include room and board and the average costs exceed $14,600. While that is relatively low compared to outside institutions of higher education, for many students attendance at UA is only possible with the support of financial aid and scholarships. The University of Alaska offers more than 500 scholarships to help ease these students’ debt. In fact, more than $136 million in financial aid was paid to students in the 2010-2011 school year. Of the total amount awarded, which includes significant federal investment in the form of Pell grants, $2,291,769 came from funds managed by the UA Foundation and distributed under the careful management of scholarship officer Dory Straight.

Dory Straight, who constantly reminded her three daughters as they grew up that they come from a long line of strong women who can and have overcome anything, identifies with Rosie the Riviter: We Can Do It! It is with that same passion and energy that she helps encourage students to pursue scholarship funding and achieve their educational goals. Photo by Monique Musick

Scholarship Officer Dory Straight

Straight came to the UA Foundation from Washington State University (WSU) where she worked in alumni relations and prospect management for the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS). She first worked with current foundation executive director Megan Riebe while researching foundation grants for 4H programs operated by the WSU Cooperative Extension Service.

As scholarship officer, Straight is in a position to do what she loves most: helping students by encouraging them to set goals, and providing them the financial resources to achieve those goals. She also enjoys helping donors support higher education in the state.

“It’s so exciting to work with donors who went to school here and want to support students, or who received scholarships in the past and want to give back, and then to go out and talk to students and let them know how exciting it is to receive a scholarship. I love to talk to donors about why they are giving and then talk to students about all the opportunities we have here,” said Straight.

Investing in Students

Donors support students for many reasons. Many want to see students succeed and contribute back to Alaska. Companies invest in programs that train their future workforce. For others, supporting current students is a way of paying back the scholarship investment made in them.

Scholarship and development officers work closely with donors to make sure that their wishes are met to the full extent allowed by law. Federal law prohibits discrimination that could occur if scholarships were restricted by gender, race, religion or other demographics.

Applying for Scholarships

Students can apply for all UA scholarships in a single step using uaOnline. The application deadline is February 15 prior to the academic year for which funding is required.

In the past students had to go to their local financial aid office, pour over hundreds of scholarship opportunities, and apply on paper for a maximum of four scholarships. Today’s online process opens the door to every scholarship in the system in one step.

This year, four new short essays are required instead of one personal essay. The new questions prompt students to provide information that may qualify them for more funding opportunities and help them to make a more compelling case for why they deserve a scholarship.

Scholarship Selection

Last year more than 5,000 UA students applied for scholarships. Applications are reviewed by selection committees whos members work to match specific scholarships with the appropriate recipients. Many scholarships are specific to a particular school or college and are reviewed and selected at the campus level.

Sixty systemwide scholarships fall under Straight’s purview. Applications are reviewed by Straight to ensure eligibility requirements are met, following which a selection committee of representatives from each campus financial aid office and other volunteers reads and rates them.

The committee also reviews the minimum and maximum distribution of the scholarship funds to determine how many students will receive what amount of money from each designated fund.

Straight works hard to ensure scholarships are used, often contacting financial aid and admissions offices, specific departments and professors to encourage them to identify students eligible to apply. As a final step, Straight reviews each selected student to ensure the donor’s intentions have been met.

The FAFSA

The single most important step is completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) prior to applying for scholarships. Too many students don’t file a FAFSA because they are not seeking, or do not think they are eligible for, federal aid. However the FAFSA is used to verify all financial aid need including scholarships distributed from the UA Foundation.

Need Based Aid

Need-based aid eligibility is determined from the student’s FAFSA. Financial need is defined as the difference between the Educational Cost of Attendance (COA) and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). COA-EFC = Need. COA is based on direct costs including tuition, fees, books, on-campus room and board and indirect costs such as travel, personal expenses, off-campus housing and food.

Merit Based Aid

There are many misconceptions about what constitutes merit.

Straight remembers encouraging a young woman to apply for scholarships despite a rough freshman year. She had been an honors student in high school and was working hard to bring up her 2.0 GPA. With Straight’s encouragement she applied and was awarded a two year scholarship.

The financial aid professionals who sit on the selection committees understand that the freshman year can be overwhelming to some students. If they see effort made to improve performance and work towards graduation, they are often motivated to approve scholarship assistance.

Supporting scholarships

Businesses and individuals can contribute to scholarships at UA by donating to existing funds or by establishing a new scholarship fund. Scholarships have been established to honor a specific person, support a department or major, celebrate specific qualities and interests, or acknowledge particular values such as volunteerism or leadership. Information on establishing or contributing to an existing scholarship fund is available by contacting the UA Foundation or a local campus development office.

About two-thirds of the scholarships distributed by the UA Foundation are from endowed funds. Some were formed as a memorial, by bequest or via some other form of planned giving.  (Read more about planned giving: http://www.alaska.edu/voice/2012/oct-2012/spotlight/)

Changing lives

Few things are more exciting than helping a student achieve their educational dreams. Scholarships are a proven way to do that.

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