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2011 September 5 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Alaska Scholarship Awards Total $4M

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The state expects to award about $4 million in merit scholarships to Alaska students this year.

Preliminary figures released by the governor’s office showed at least 2,337 high school graduates qualified for scholarships. About 75 percent applied for scholarships by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the form that students need to complete if they’re seeking financial aid for college.

Qualified students have six years in which to use up to four years of state aid, said Rebekah Smith, outreach programs manager for the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education. The scholarship program provides students with up to $4,755 a year toward their college or career and technical educations.

The scholarship must be used at Alaska schools; about three dozen institutions — from universities and community colleges to barber, Bible and trade schools — participate in the program.

Students must remain in good standing to stay eligible for scholarship funds. That means they must earn at least a 2.0 grade point average and complete 24 semester credits or the equivalent for full-time students during the first year of college.

During the final three years, they must earn at least a 2.5 grade point average and complete 30 semester credits. Graduate students must keep at least a 2.5 grade point average.

Merit scholarships are a pet project of Gov. Sean Parnell, who sees them as key to helping transform a state education system now blighted by lackluster graduation rates, truancy and drop-outs. To earn the scholarships, students must complete a set curriculum at a certain achievement level.

“This is a strong start to a program that will change lives,” Parnell said in a statement. “.... These scholarships will open doors for graduates from across the state by offering incentives to work hard.”

The curriculum for the new program is being phased in. This is the first year that scholarships will be awarded, but there are no guarantees about how long the program will be around.

Parnell had requested $8.2 million for scholarships this year, as well as $400 million for a scholarship fund. Earnings from that fund would be used to pay for future scholarships.

Lawmakers gave him $4.5 million for scholarships, and $400 million for the fund. Lawmakers still must pass a law setting up the scholarship fund.

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