October 31, 2011

By Arlynne Chugen and Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

Beginning in the spring of 2013, FSM's graduating students will face stiffer competition for scholarships due to JEMCO budget cuts for the program based in part, on the FSM's own flawed statistics.

The Joint Economic Management Committee (JEMCO) resolved in its September meeting to slash scholarship funding to one million dollars beginning in fiscal year 2013; down from its previous level of $2.6 million;

The resolution passed with three votes in favor and two against. JEMCO members consist of three members from the United States and two from the FSM - the two votes against the resolution were from the FSM.

The JEMCO resolution says, "FSM Government statistics indicate that 94 percent of scholarship students did not achieve a degree by 2010."

But FSM officials say that their own statistics were misinterpreted by the JEMCO.

Kemsky Sigrah, Education Specialist in the Office of Statistics, Budget and Economic Management, Overseas Development Assistance and Compact Management (SBOC) wrote in an email that there was some confusion at the JEMCO meeting regarding the derivation of the quoted 94 percent failure rate.

He wrote that during the meeting a representative of the FSM National Department of Education (NDOE), the department that prepared the statistics that were submitted to the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) disputed the JEMCO interpretation of the statistics.

Sigrah wrote that the statistics were based on data that included 92 graduates who were scholarship recipients and also included 1,387 undergraduates who received scholarships.

The 1,387 undergraduates have not yet completed their scholarship funded education. The fact that a freshman, a sophomore, a junior or even a senior has not yet graduated from college should not be considered as "scholarship failures."

But if there were a total of 1,479 students before 2010 ended, a 100 percent success rate would mean that just over 379 people would graduate that year. This presupposes that each and every student who earns a Compact Scholarship earns that same scholarship in each of his or her four years of college. It's an assumption that cannot be made and that fact amongst many other variables complicates matters which made the NDOE task that much more difficult.

Just the same, the scholarship failure rate could not have been anywhere near 94 percent.

JEMCO members acknowledged at the meeting that there were inadequacies in the data that were presented by the FSM.

"It was made clear by US members at the JEMCO meeting that whether the 94 percent figure is correct or not, the fact is (the) scholarship (program in the FSM) is not well administered," Kemsky Sigrah wrote in his email.

Suzanne L. Gallen, the Assistant Director of the Division of Compact Management in the Office of SBOC, wrote in an email that even though members of JEMCO agreed the figure may be inaccurate, the resolution still garnered enough votes for passage.

Gallen was a FSM representative at the meeting.

Tim Donahue, Educational Specialist/ Grants Manager of the Office of Insular Affairs within the US Department of Interior, said that the scholarship issue is not new and this resolution should not have come with a surprise. He said that in previous years scholarship programs have been urged to modify their policies and while national policies have been amended, state policies have yet to be modified.

When asked about JEMCO's justification for cutting scholarship funding, Donahue responded that although JEMCO members support higher education, they also realize that the current scholarship programs have not been successful in garnering the anticipated number of college degrees.

"One unavoidable conclusion is that students are under-prepared for post-secondary academic work," Donahue wrote. He also wrote that Compact resources should be focused more on primary and secondary education systems and basic education than on post-secondary scholarships.

Resolution 2011-4 set other stipulations for the scholarship programs. JEMCO resolved that effective in Fiscal Year 2013:

1) Compact-funded scholarships must only be awarded to students accepted into degree credit course work or an FSM approved training program. Scholarship funding must not support remedial academic work.

2) Compact-funded scholarships must be provided directly to the educational institution instead of directly to the students.

3) Compact-funded scholarships may only be released for continuing students upon submission of transcript demonstrating successful completion of the previous quarter/semester's work.

4) Students must maintain a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 2.5 to continue to receive a Compact-funded scholarship.

5) A yearly update of all students receiving Compact-funded scholarships must be submitted no later than July 1 each year to the Government of the US and FSM National Department of Education for audit purposes. The report shall contain the following: students; name of college or training program, numbers of years on scholarship, total to-date amount of scholarship funds received, major, GPA and expected year of graduation.

6) The yearly update must further include data on number of graduates each year by degree and certificate types. Requests for comments made to US JEMCO member Nikolao Pula and FSM JEMCO member Secretary Lorin Robert remained unanswered at press time.