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Monday, April 21, 2014

SHEFA rules bar aid to trades students

Students of Northern Marianas Trade Institute are technically ineligible for financial assistance from the Saipan Higher Educational Financial Assistance due to its enabling rules that exclude grants for trade and vocational schools.

John Pialur, chairman of the board committee on programs and development, revealed that the way the SHEFA regulations are written, providing assistance to trade schools and vocational students is beyond the board’s authority.

The only way to go around this is to rewrite the policy and regulations, Pialur said, or establish specific rules and regulation dealing with trade and vocational scholars.

“I understand the need for these individuals to have financial assistance [from SHEFA] but first things first. The way our regulation is written now does not really authorize us to do so,” he told colleagues during a meeting yesterday.

He said he is not against helping NMTI students but something solid must be established first to protect the board.

SHEFA board members later agreed to clarify matters first before acting on the matter.

SHEFA already awarded financial grants to NMTI students in 2010 but it was only recently that the board discovered that they have no copy of any previous board decision to extend financial aid to NMTI students.

SHEFA board chair Josephine Sablan disclosed yesterday that that of the 12 checks issued to NMTI students in 2010, two were returned to SHEFA. That was the first and last issuance from SHEFA after NMTI closed down for almost two years.

“Although it’s been done before, but I think we need something ‘black and white’ for our safety and for the purpose of equality, not only for NMTI students but other trade schools. We need to revisit our rules and regulations to reflect that,” Pialur said.

According to SHEFA administrator Merissa Seman-Rasa, 27 NMTI students have applied for financial assistance this semester. Of this number, more than half have asked to be denied so they could avail of the “higher” assistance from the Workforce Investment Agency.

SHEFA increased its financial assistance to NMTI scholars last year from $800 per term to $1,000 per term. WIA, meantime, pays the full year amount for NMTI scholars. A denial letter from SHEFA is a requirement of WIA.

Rasa could not immediately say when the planned policy for NMTI will be finalized and enforced.

“We want to have the rules and regs first. We want to speed up [the process] so we can assist them as soon as possible,” she said.

Saipan Tribune learned that Pialur met Wednesday with NMTI director Vic Cepeda where he was provided some records of the institution’s enrollment, class schedule, and others.

However, board members expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of information received from the institution. Another meeting is set for next week to meet with NMTI anew.

Board members Ursula Aldan and John Tenorio pointed out the need for NMTI to show its solid curriculum and policy on requirements, among other documents, that would help the SHEFA board come up with a policy for the trade school.

“I see the need to push for this and it’s really something beneficial to us. However, if somebody decides to quit [NMTI] and if we offered assistance, then where are we with that?” Pialur asked.

Like other SHEFA scholars, Sablan made it clear that NMTI students are also required to sign an agreement with SHEFA.

‘SLL 16-8’

Saipan Local Law 16-8 entitles a non high-school student to avail of SHEFA financial awards if enrolled at NMTI. This was passed after the passage of the law that created SHEFA.

For Pialur, the mandates of SLL 16-8 in itself contradicts what the SHEFA program is intended for because under the existing rules and regulations of SHEFA, classification of recipients are undergraduate, graduate, and advanced students only. There was no inclusion for technical school certification purposes.

“We need to have in our regulations language for ‘technical schools’…and that’s the only time we can help them,” added Pialur, emphasizing the need for the board to act together to have it done for NMTI students.

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