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Governor Parnell Offers Bold Vision For Alaska's Future: Op Ed Piece by Harry McDonald


Oct. 22, 2009

By Harry McDonald, Chair, Alaska Pacific University Board of Trustees

Governor Sean Parnell's recently announced initiative to provide post secondary education scholarships to Alaska high school students based on earned grades is a demonstrable commitment to the future of our children and our state. Governor Parnell's proposal would transform the hopes of students for a post-secondary education into a basic right of Alaskan citizenship and at the same time, provide evidence that we care about keeping our children in Alaska to be educated and to remain after graduation to enhance our communities.

I graduated from Alaska Methodist University in 1970, prior to the beginning of the great oil wealth.  Many of my peers went out of Alaska to continue their education after high School and only a few returned.

As the oil wealth of the late 70s and 80s began filling our bank accounts, political leaders of vision, led by Terry Gardiner of Ketchikan, decided we needed to proactively slow the brain drain of young Alaskans leaving the state. These visionaries created the Alaska Student Loan Program, which helped many of our families pay for their children's education and which forgave 50 percent of the loan if the graduates remained or returned to Alaska to live and work.

The Alaska Student Loan Program was a great benefit for Alaskan residents and worked as envisioned. My wife took advantage of this program to obtain her nursing degrees at UAA.  The portion of the program that encouraged graduates to remain residents has since been eliminated and we no longer incentivize students to remain here as we formerly did.  Governor Parnell's vision would again encourage students to pursue their college education in Alaska and allow them to do so at significantly reduced costs, qualified by good grades.

As Chair of the Alaska Pacific University Board of Trustees (formerly Alaska Methodist University), I am proud that our campus offers its students an intimate learning environment, an actively engaged faculty and a campus setting located in Anchorage's University/Medical District that is unparalleled for its beauty and environmental quality.

I can verify that we are inspired by the possibilities of enrolling more Alaska students. The board, faculty and staff at APU are working diligently to attract and enroll more Alaskans and as we evaluate Governor Parnell's proposal, we believe the benefits for Alaskan students and our society are significant.

The State of Alaska will benefit by encouraging young Alaskans to get degrees in Marine Biology & Fisheries, Environmental Sciences, Business Administration, Teaching or Telecommunications or to learn trades such as computer science, oilfield services or construction trades. A highly educated and trained work force, accomplished within our state, can only enhance our economy and society. I expect that Alaskans trained and educated here at home and who, as part of that process, learn the benefits of sound management of Alaska's resources would have a profound commitment to the state and our future.

Alaska's institutions of higher learning and vocational training also would be challenged to make sure they offer quality programs to fill the demand that would be created by the Governor's proposal.
Governor Parnell's vision is timely and all of us should encourage its passage when our legislature convenes in January because this measure is in the best interest of all Alaskans.


Harry McDonald is Chair of the Alaska Pacific University Board of Trustees and Chief Executive Officer  of Carlile Transportation, Alaska's largest homegrown trucking company. He is a 1970 graduate of then-Alaska Methodist University, now Alaska Pacific University.

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