SHEFA board suspends merit incentives, priority field awards

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TWO scholarship incentive awards provided by Saipan Higher Education Financial Assistance to their recipients have been suspended temporarily.

On Thursday, the SHEFA board, chaired by Oscar M. Babauta, adopted a resolution suspending the priority field of study and merit incentive awards for school year 2020-2021.

SHEFA administrator Merissa Rasa said a scholarship recipient in the CNMI usually receives a $1,000 merit incentive award while an off-island student gets $1,500. Recipients must maintain a 3.5 cumulative grade point average.

Saipan Higher Education Financial Assistance board chairman Oscar M. Babauta, left background, presides over the meeting with SHEFA administrator Merissa Rasa, right background, board vice chair Juan “Shine” K. Tenorio, right foreground, and board member Kaelani B. Demapan, left foreground. Photo by Junhan B. Todino

To get a priority field of study award of $1,000, an off-island or on-island student must at least be in junior year in college or pursuing an advanced degree.

During the board meeting, Babauta said there is a growing concern about the depletion of SHEFA funding sources, referring to the annual license fees paid by the poker arcades on island, which have been shut down since April 1, 2020 following the government directive to close non-essential businesses at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said he has asked the board committee on awards chaired by Francisco Cabrera to look into the future of the SHEFA program.

Babauta said the number of licensed poker machines is decreasing even as the number of SHEFA applicants is increasing.

Previously, SHEFA received an average of 800 to 900 applications a year. This number has now reached 1,300, the SHEFA board stated in a resolution signed by Babauta, vice chairman Juan “Shine” K. Tenorio and member Kaelani B. Demapan. Members Raymond Muna and Francisco Cabrera were unable to attend the meeting.

The resolution noted that no funding has been appropriated for SHEFA in fiscal year 2020, which started on Oct. 1, 2019.

Current available resources of SHEFA have dwindled to $1.37 million, the resolution added.

In academic year 2018-2019, SHEFA recipients received over $2.8 million.

But Tenorio said the grant-in-aid awards will continue and will remain available in the fall 2020 semester for on- and off-island students, including online students, pursuing post-secondary education in U.S. accredited colleges or universities, trade certification at the Northern Marianas Trades Institute or other approved trade institutions.

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