Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks Monday, May 8, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks Monday, May 8, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska House approves bigger merit scholarship for in-state high school students

The Alaska House of Representatives voted on Monday without opposition to raise the amount of the state’s merit-based scholarship program for high schoolers who attend college or get technical training within the state.

House Bill 148 would raise the maximum amount of an Alaska Performance Scholarship from $4,755 per year to $7,000 per year and expand the eligibility qualifications. The amount students receive would be based on grade-point average or a standardized test score, rather than both. Students would still be required to complete a specified number of high school classes.

The vote was 39-0, with Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, excused absent. The bill advances to the Senate for further work.

“One of the good things about the Alaska Performance Scholarship is that it does keep students in Alaska,” said Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna and the sponsor of HB 148.

The bill was partially inspired by a “precipitous decline” in the number of students eligible for the scholarship, he said. In 2011, the program’s first year, 36% of graduating seniors used the scholarship; last year, only 17% were eligible, the lowest rate in the history of the program.

To address that, sections of the bill call for repeatedly notifying students about the program so they can sign up for the classes they need to stay eligible for the scholarship.

If a student qualifies for a lower award because they had a low high-school GPA, the bill allows for a higher award if the student earns a higher GPA in college.

Speaking in support of the bill, legislators cited studies indicating that Alaskans who attend college in the state are more likely to remain in the state.

“We are just so pleased to be able to offer something that attracts and keeps our kids in state,” said Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau. “We know that when we go out to college, only 35% come back. So let’s give them access to a good scholarship award. It’s our promise to them.”

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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