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Saturday, April 19, 2014

‘Abolition of scholarship programs is not an option’

Despite the revenue shortfall faced by the government, the Inos administration still wants to sustain the scholarship programs offered by the CNMI Scholarship Office, according to Lt. Gov. Jude Hofschneider.

He said the administration is convinced that these programs are key to developing the needed educated workforce in the CNMI.

“Absolutely, the aboli[tion] [of scholarship programs] is not a possibility and I am speaking for the Inos’ administration. I can vouch for that,” he told Saipan Tribune, saying it is the government’s commitment to assist students in pursuing their dreams to become professionals and become assets of the Commonwealth.

He disclosed, however, that the administration has no plan to extend the Honors scholarship program, the sunset provision of which recently expired.

Pursuant to Public Law 14-37, the Honors Scholarship program administered by the CNMI Scholarship Office was to last only up to December last year. As a result, the government had stopped accepting new applicants for the program beginning this fall 2013 semester and is just waiting for existing Honors recipients to complete their courses.

Saipan Tribune learned that in order for the program to be extended or implemented again, it would have to be done by way of legislation and enactment into law, which the Executive Branch may recommend to the Legislature.

But for now, Hofschneider disclosed that no such plan is being considered by the Inos administration.

“It is something that needs serious evaluation and we know that the government is being challenge by revenue stream. As much as we want to look at it in a broader perspective, I don’t think it will happen now…or not at this time,” said Hofschneider.

The abolition of the government’s scholarship programs, once described as very generous, surfaced as a way to help government raise revenue for more critical services. Many believe it is about time to either suspend or remove this financial assistance due to the many students who have defaulted on the rule that requires them to return to the CNMI once they finish their studies.

The Honors scholarship program provides qualified applicants up to $15,000 a year. In the 1990s, the award was up to $30,000 annually per scholar. There are 40 scholars currently receiving assistance under this program, of which 12 are ongoing students and continue to receive the grants until the completion of their courses. Majority of the recipients of this program are off-island.

The Honors scholarship is one of the two programs offered by the CNMI Scholarship Office and included in the yearly budget appropriated by the Legislature. The other program and the only one existing at present is the Educational Assistance Program, or EAP.

According to Hofschneider, the administration has full confidence in the new board of the CNMI Scholarship Office, now headed by chair Glenna Palacios-Reyes.

It will be recalled that Hofschneider, when he was serving as acting governor some months ago, asked for the resignation of all members of the scholarship board.

“It was a policy call…as the new administration,” he explained when asked if he was dissatisfied with the previous board’s performance. “There were some [members] who were not necessarily in agreement with some policies we instituted. There are some members who did not accept the offer to stay, and we respect that.”

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