With recent news of a push by the University of Alaska president to have 90 percent Alaska teacher hires in the next decade, perhaps it is time to have a serious look at how we can keep more youth in the state.
Historically, Alaska’s population was young — now we are graying. In recent years, we have seen growing attention to the issue of how we can keep and/or attract young people in Alaska. I’ve wondered why we never hear anyone of authority suggest bringing back the student loan forgiveness program.
In focusing on retaining our youth, there are several programs that have been implemented over the years. For instance, we have the free/reduced tuition offer for the top 10 percent of graduating high school classes. We also have a scholarship to get students to attend the University of Alaska. There are also programs to attract and assist young people in technical and vocational training.
While appreciated, in light of the new 90 percent Alaska hire goal, these programs seem sanguine in light of the reality of our aging (and shrinking) population.
I’ve heard previously the forgiveness program was a money loser. Perhaps others can speak to that, but many programs are not evaluated on the dollar alone. If the state were to lose money by forgiving half of a student’s loan, surely the state would offset that cost and get the benefit of having that person make their home in the state.
With college costs seemingly showing no sign of slowing their surging prices, I believe this program would provide a powerful incentive to get people to stay. Of course, I realize that this encourages students to attend universities out of state, however, that’s reality. Setting that aside, can we encourage them to return after graduation?
You take the loan, then you have 10 years of payback (if you graduate of course to qualify). After five years of payments, if you have been living in Alaska, we forgive the remaining five years. Surely if a young person, who really didn’t plan on returning to Alaska after college — after being back here for five years — maybe this person buys a house, starts a career and/or a family, and maybe this person won’t leave after five years.
I’ve been in education for many years, spent a lot of time around young people, and having been there myself, understand that many times the things that we older people tell the young often doesn’t really register. However, money talks. So, we will see young people take note of getting half of their student debt forgiven.
I’ve heard many times from young people who grew up in Alaska and leave, then find that they miss Alaska and have a new appreciation for living here. The five years of payments period could emphasize our fantastic high quality of life in Alaska. If they want to leave after five years, then we send them off with no hard feelings.
No disrespect to the current efforts to retain youth, however, it will clearly take a more vigorous approach, especially in light of current population trends. Loan forgiveness could be a powerful tool to help meet the needs of the future of Alaska.
• Kurt Dzinich is a teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School and a 45-year resident of Alaska.