education: funding a College education in Alaska The ABC's of financial aid
by martha black
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 2012, 7.58 percent of the college student body in Alaska was Hispanic, making it the largest minority population on campus after Alaska Natives (11.21 percent). Latinos, along with the rest of the student population, are struggling to pay for college and graduate. Like other states, Alaska struggles to retain students in post-secondary education through to graduation. The NCES reports that only 26.6 percent of Alaska’s higher education students graduate within six years and only a dismal 8.2 percent graduate with a bachelor’s degree in four years, compared to the national averages of 56 percent and 31.3 percent, respectively. It seems that financial difficulty is the main reason college students struggle to graduate.
However, there is good news: The average in-state cost of tuition in Alaska is among the lowest in the country at $6,317 to attend public institutions and $21,496 for private ones, compared to the national averages of $8,070 and $24,525, respectively. Furthermore, there is a significant amount of financial aid available for college students in the form of both federal and state loans, grants, and scholarships.
To take advantage of these financial aid opportunities, you must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. January 1 through February 15 is the best time to submit your FAFSA application in order to ensure that you are considered for all financial aid available. Each college can have a different deadline for when the FAFSA application is due. For ex- ample, the deadline at Alaska Pacific University and the University of Alaska is February 15, but the deadline for the Alaska Performance Scholarship and the Alaska Education Grant is June 30. A new FAFSA application must be sub- mitted every school year.
In addition to federal financial aid (www.studentaid.ed.gov), the following are also available for Alaska residents:
The Alaska Performance Scholarship: for high school students who take a more rigorous curriculum, get good grades, and score well on college placement or work ready exams to attend 2-year, 4-year and vocational/technical programs. The scholarship amount ranges from $2,378 to $4,755 per year for up to eight semesters of college and must be used within six years of graduat- ing from high school. (Learn more: www.APS.alaska.gov).
The Alaska Education Grant: for low-income students to meet outstanding financial need that is not covered by other scholarships. Grant awards range from $500 to $4,000 per academic year, depending on financial need and filing date of the FAFSA application.
The Alaska Supplemental Education Loan (ASEL): a low-cost educational loan with a fixed interest rate (6.25 percent) that can be used for educational expenses. (Learn more and apply at: ACPE@alaska.gov).
Family Education Loan (FEL): also a low-cost educational loan with a fixed interest rate (6.25 percent) that a spouse, parent, foster-parent, or grandparent can take out on behalf of the student. (Learn more and apply at: ACPE@alaska.gov).
There are also many scholarships available nation-wide for Hispanic Americans such as the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF), the Gates Millennium Scholarship, and the Becas Univisión Scholarship Program. The award amounts range from $500 to $5,000 and are merit-based scholarships available to undergraduate and graduate students (learn more and apply at https://apply. hsf.net). Private scholarships such as these help to fill any gaps in funding not met by other sources of financial aid. They can reduce students’ debt by al- lowing them to borrow less money, and can cover other college expenses such as room and board, fees and textbooks.
The financial aid process can differ from school to school. Therefore, it is essential to get the following questions answered by the Financial Aid Office at the chosen institution: 1. When is the FAFSA due in order to be considered for scholarships and grants at the chosen school? 2. What scholarships and grants are available? When is the deadline and how do I apply? Scholarships and grants are monies that are not paid back; therefore, students should pursue these opportunities before taking out student loans that must be paid back later with interest. 3. How can I verify if any documentation is missing or if it has been processed by the Financial Aid Office? Often schools notify students via their online student account when their documentation has been processed and if they need to submit anything else. Therefore, students should monitor theiraccounts and respond promptly when asked for additional information. 4. How do I renew my financial aid from year to year? What requirements must be met to maintain scholarships, grants and other financial aid? Some scholarships require minimum GPA and course loads for renewal. Students should keep a folder with all the important information regarding their scholarships, loans and grants as the requirements for each are likely to differ. 5. Who can I contact with any further questions or concerns regarding financial aid? This will be someone in the Financial Aid Office at the chosen university. Sometimes the best way to get in touch with them is via email or phone, and other times it is more helpful to show up in person.
Do you want to share your own experience with educational financial aid in Alaska? We would love to hear from you at: firstname.lastname@example.org!
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