CNMI scholars see success


Ten students from Saipan, and one student from Tinian, have been selected as 2016 Gates Millennium Scholars. This news comes from a Gates Millennium Scholars Program press release posted at

Only 1,000 such scholars are selected annually. It is a competitive process. The CNMI has punched far above its weight here. Kagman High School, in particular, has been a superstar, with six Gates Millennium Scholars to its credit this year.

Gates Millennium Scholars receive large and substantial scholarships. Depending on the specifics, the scholarships pay not only for an entire bachelors degree, but can also fund studies up to the Ph.D. level in certain fields. Which is to say, this is a really big deal. And it’s rooted in really big generosity. The scholarship fund was established with a $1.6-billion grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Here are the names of the CNMI’s 2016 Gates Millennium Scholars, as listed in the press release:

– Cassey Babauta, Kagman High School

– Elizabeth Basa, Kagman High School

– Josepha Cabrera Kagman High School

– Victor Juan Castro, Kagman High School

– Nimei George, Kagman High School

– Karen Laoyan, Kagman High School

– Thomas Manglona, Mount Carmel School

– Eliezha Mendoza, Saipan Southern High School

– Odorico San Nicolas, Tinian Junior/Senior High

– Roselyn Tanghal, Marianas High School

– Mary Grace Tiglao, Marianas High School

A goal of this scholarship program, according to, is “Reducing financial barriers for African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American and Hispanic American students with high academic and leadership promise who have significant financial need.”

Toward this end, over $934 million in scholarships have been awarded so far.

To say that this is a life-changing event for some of the CNMI’s most capable and deserving students would be an understatement.

It’s easy to get priced out of college. A student from the CNMI who is looking at a top-name U.S. university is facing tuition around $40,000 to $50,000 a year, even more in some cases, and only slightly less in others.

I have a list of 10 universities that I consulted for these costs. Instead of getting bogged down in arguments about which schools do, or don’t, deserve to be on the list, I’ll just share that range of costs and leave it at that. After all, I’m just a guy in a beach chair. I’m not an academic referee.

Moving right along here, tuition isn’t the end of the story, it’s just the beginning. Just for the sake of ballpark thinking, we can contemplate a minimal budget of $24,000 a year for a student’s living expenses, books, and such. I doubt that would leave much, if any, wiggle room for vacations, contingencies, or a car.

Once the numbers are added up, if we’re talking paying full price at a big-brand place, the total cost of a four-year university stint can be around the $300,000 mark.

Of course, in many cases, various types of financial aid can pare this down. Stanford University, for example, will waive tuition entirely for students from families that make under $125,000 a year. But, on the other hand, students might get a cooler reception from the top public universities. For instance, for the academic year just closing, U.C. Berkeley tuition is said to be $38,139 for nonresidents vs. $13,431 for residents of California. Yikes, that’s a big difference. Furthermore, at least in California’s case, state aid and grants to nonresident students can be very sparse; not a great situation for someone from the CNMI.

Anyway, no matter what the specific numbers are, college has, overall, become notoriously expensive. This puts many in Saipan, and elsewhere, in a tough spot. So it’s nice to see some good news on this front, at least as it pertains to 11 scholars in the CNMI.

Our Gates Millennium Scholars are facing the future with blessings that are as big as their dreams.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at His column runs every Friday.

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