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Friday, April 18, 2014

SHEFA runs after defaulted scholars
»Rasa says every single recipient being accounted, tracked

The Saipan Higher Educational Financial Assistance’s board and management have taken a strong position to go after defaulted scholars and collect the funds due the scholarship program.

SHEFA administrator Merissa S. Rasa disclosed that since she came into office, she created a process that would fully monitor the status of all scholars, including the payments due the agency.

“Every single recipient is now accounted for. The second process is tracking these students in order to see exactly how many are in compliance and how much really is in default,” said Rasa.

Rasa told Saipan Tribune that she could not immediately specify the potential amount that may be collected from defaulted scholars or how many defaulted scholars there are, pending the completion of the final report.

She described their efforts as a “work in progress” but agreed that the agency has a large number of defaulted scholars who are liable to repay the awards they received from SHEFA.

“We don’t have those numbers yet because it’s a work in progress right now. But each week, the office staff is issuing 10 to 20 letters—after auditing the students’ files—for compliance,” said Rasa.

She noted that progress is being noted in the collection from these defaulted scholars. For instance, from just $600 expected collections for January, SHEFA actually collected about $8,000 for that month after two defaulted scholars started paying their dues.

“We got new people paying,” said Rasa.

She encouraged defaulted scholars to come in and arrange a payment plan with SHEFA.

Based on the SHEFA’s amended rules and regulations, the agency can refer defaulted scholars to the Office of Attorney General for legal proceedings.

Under SHEFA rules, grant recipients must return to the CNMI and find a job here—whether in government or the private sector—within three months after they finish their studies. If they fail to finish their studies, they are considered in default. Similarly, if they graduate and fail to return to the CNMI, they are also in default.

If a former recipient decides to remain and work abroad three months after completing or terminating their college studies, that grant assistance automatically converts into a loan. When this happens, the grant recipient must repay SHEFA the amount awarded with interest.

Meantime, Rasa disclosed that, after clarifying from Finance Department, it was learned that collections from defaulted scholars will go directly to the “awards account” of SHEFA. The clarification was sought after the SHEFA asked if this collection can be used for operational expenses.

Based on SHEFA’s annual report for 2012, repayment collections from 2004 to 2012 totaled only $17,356.

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