Thousands of Alaska university students notified that millions in scholarships and grants are currently in limbo

Alaska State Capitol in February. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Notices went out to 12,000 Alaska students on Tuesday afternoon that money for their grants and scholarships isn’t currently available for the next school year. 

But, it’s not because the funds were vetoed from the budget. The Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education wrote in the message that funds for the Alaska Performance Scholarship and Alaska Education Grants aren’t currently available and require legislative action to be restored.  

The commission is a state corporation tasked with planning for higher education and administering financial aid programs.  

Funds for a program that provides money for students from Alaska to attend University of Washington School of Medicine is also unavailable. 

The issue is nearly $350 million in Alaska’s Higher Education Investment Fund. Each year, funds from nearly every state program get swept into a constitutionally mandated savings account. Typically lawmakers vote to put the money back into the programs it was designated for. But, that process requires a supermajority of the Legislature — three-quarters of them — to vote to put the money back. This year, that didn’t happen.

It’s also unusual for the Higher Education Fund to be included in the funding sweep; historically that hasn’t happened.  

According to data from the University of Alaska, nearly 1 in 5 students gets a merit-based Alaska Performance Scholarship. Altogether, the performance scholarships and education funds support more than 5,000 students with more than $15 million in financial aid each year.   

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk , she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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