Community development quota groups, or CDQ groups, are supposed to harness some of the wealth from western Alaska’s booming fisheries. They all invest in education by handing out scholarships to coastal residents.
Now, the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association is changing the way it invests in graduate students to get the returns it wants.
Larry Cotter is APICDA’s executive director. He says the scholarship program used to be simple: Students from the Aleutians and Pribilofs could get up to $5,000 every year to pay for school. That worked well for undergraduates.
“First and foremost, I think the goal is to encourage folks to get an education and set the table for their future,” Cotter says.
But it’s different for students who pursue an advanced degree, like a master’s or a doctorate. In the past five years, 15 graduate students have gotten grants from APICDA to put toward school.
There’s no data on how many of them have returned to the Aleutians and Pribilofs. But Cotter says the region needs all of those students to put their graduate degrees to work in their communities.
APICDA wasn’t doing enough to draw them back home, Cotter says.
“The way to do that would be to shift away from providing an outright scholarship to encouraging the students to go get student loans, and then we would pay those loans off at up to $5,000 a year if they returned to the region and worked or worked for somebody working with the region,” Cotter says.
That could be a government agency, like the Aleutians East Borough. It could also be a nonprofit group, or even APICDA itself.
Cotter says it’s a new concept for APICDA. But they’re not the only ones using loan repayments to hold onto highly-educated residents.
The CDQ group for the Bristol Bay region — the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation — will pay off up to $20,000 in graduate school loans for students from the area if they come back home to work for at least one year.
“Frankly I think we may have looked at their program and said, ‘You know, that makes sense,’” Cotter says.
The Bristol Bay group didn’t respond to a request for information about their program. But according to their annual reports, BBEDC has been offering loan forgiveness to graduate students for at least a decade.
In the Aleutians and Pribilofs, the changes are going into effect. Residents who have returned to work for the region will have until July 1 to apply for student loan payments from APICDA. After that, more rounds of funding are expected to follow.