Of the hundred-plus beneficiaries of the CNMI Scholarship Office who potentially graduated last school year, only a few have actually notified the government about the completion of their studies, violating the agreement they signed with the CNMI Scholarship Office.
Rose Pangelinan, the Scholarship Office program administrator, told Saipan Tribune that less than 20 scholars who graduated in May and June have complied with the memorandum of agreement that gives these beneficiaries 90 days to notify the government about their graduation.
Besides this revelation, Pangelinan also disclosed that there is only a little over $50,000 in the bank account where collections from defaulted scholars are desposited. This means only a few defaulted students actually paid for their obligations this fiscal year.
CNMI scholars, upon receiving their checks, sign a memorandum of agreement that mandates the scholar’s responsibility to notify the CNMI Scholarship Office within 90 days once they graduate or fail to enroll.
If they fail to do this, these scholars will be in default and all the monies they received from the scholarship program will become a loan that they must pay back to the government.
“The amount in our collection [account] is not as much as we like…and our goal this new fiscal year is to increase it,” Pangelinan told Saipan Tribune, citing aggressive efforts in tracking and running after defaulted scholars.
Under the scholarship policy, beneficiaries are also required to return to the CNMI and work here after college graduation.
Pangelinan admitted that this has not been the case for many students who received large amounts of financial aid from the government.
“I’d like to hear from them [defaulted scholars]. They should come in and fill out the ‘compliance form’ so we can work with them,” she said.
According to her, if a defaulted scholar has no job or can’t find one to repay the “loan,” a deferment can be worked out with the Scholarship Office.
Pangelinan said her office has only one compliance officer dealing with all the notices of default students.
When asked about the importance of the periodic tracking of scholars’ status, Pangelinan said the intention is to help them with their job hunt.
“Without this information [in the compliance form] we can’t go to [the Workforce Investment Agency], [Office of Personnel Management], and Labor Department—agencies that may help them find a job here on island.”
“We don’t do job placement…but we’re here to assist them by working with these agencies,” she added.
The Scholarship Office has two program offerings: the Educational Assistance Program and Honors Scholarship Program.
Each year, a potential number of EAP graduates are expected to return and work in the CNMI as a form of “repayment” for the financial aid they received for their college studies.
Despite the low number of students who comply with the MOA and the very low collection from defaulted students, Pangelinan believes that the government’s scholarship program still serves a good purpose.
“Our goal is to help provide financial assistance to those students who want to go to college…and by seeing the number of students that graduate each year, I’d like to believe that the scholarship program is serving its main purpose and has been effective,” said Pangelinan.
In 2011, it was learned that these default scholars owe the government some $4 million, an amount that continues to increase.
The scholarship program has been criticized in the past as a “very generous” initiative that is being abused by many scholars. At present, the CNMI government is struggling to maintain this financial assistance program as a result of declining revenues and collection.