January 08, 1999

UA President Hamilton Says Scholars Award Program Looks Beyond Oil Prices to Secure Alaska's Future

January 8, 1999ยป NR 01-1999

There has never been a more important time for Alaska to invest in higher education, by increasing opportunities for young Alaskans to attend college in their own state, University of Alaska President Mark R. Hamilton told high school principals and counselors in Anchorage and Fairbanks this week.
The university's chief executive met with the school officials to discuss with them the University of Alaska Scholars Award Program which will give the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class, beginning in the spring of 1999, a four year scholarship award to the University of Alaska campus of their choice.

Hamilton said the program is designed to help reduce the number of Alaska's top high school graduates who leave the state for education and jobs elsewhere. He said almost 60 percent of the state's graduates who go on to higher education leave Alaska to attend college in the Lower 48 each fall, and most of them never return. Other states educate anywhere from 70 to 80 percent of their college-bound high school graduates at their own in-state colleges and universities.

"Alaska is dead last in this country in the retention of its high school students," Hamilton said. We have to turn that around because Alaska needs to take its whole team, not just the elite, into the 21st Century."

Hamilton said in his opinion the "brain drain" is a natural resource issue that dwarfs discussions about the price of oil from day to day. "We're exporting our future and we're not nearly concerned enough about it," he said.

Counting state, local and federal funds, Hamilton said Alaska spends about a billion dollars a year on K-12 education, so that means that each year the cohort of Alaska high school graduates represents an investment of $12 billion, an amount which represents half of what's in the Alaska Permanent Fund.

"If we don't make more of an effort to keep Alaska's best and brightest in the state, then we are spending a considerable amount of money each year to make kids smarter for export to other states," he said. "It doesn't make any sense."

Hamilton believes the University of Alaska Scholars Award Program will start to make a difference in solving the problem, and he hopes that people around the state will agree with him. "The recipients of these awards will become the best possible ambassadors for the University of Alaska in communities all across the state, and because they are most likely to stay in Alaska after graduating, they will help build the state's future," he said.

The award amount for the graduating high school classes of 1999 and 2000 will be $10,800 per recipient. The award is redeemable in the amount of $1,350 per semester, for a total of eight semesters. To be eligible, students must be in the top 10 percent of their class at an Alaska high school accredited by the Alaska Department of Education.

The UA Scholars Award Program cost is estimated to vary from $500,000 to $750,000 a year, and will be paid initially by the university from earnings of the University of Alaska Land Grant Endowment Fund.
"This is part of the money the university receives for managing and developing its land," Hamilton said, "and it is appropriate that we re-invest a major part of it in Alaska's young people, the state's greatest natural resource."

Program specifics are being developed now, Hamilton said, and will be widely disseminated soon to all Alaska school districts.

The University of Alaska Scholars Program is receiving national attention because of recent studies which show that the cost of higher education continues to rise nationally as available federal grant money continues to erode, putting higher education out of reach for many families in America. California and Texas have both announced similar student retention scholarship programs.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Bob Miller, 474-7272