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By Aldwin R. Fajardo

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (February 2, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---Enrollment figures for the Northern Marianas College Spring 2000 semester show an increase of almost 50 students compared to the Fall of 1999, reaching 1,030 enrollees as of Friday last week, officials disclosed yesterday.

Full-time students who registered for the Spring 2000 program increased to 869 from the previous semester's 813, but part-time registrants fell to 161 students from 168.

NMC officials expect the number of enrollees for the Spring 2000 semester to reach, or even exceed, the Spring 1999 level of 1,121 students since registration for the program is still ongoing.

During the Fall 1999 semester, the number of students -- 981 -- suffered a dramatic decline from the same period during the previous school year at 1,244, with 884 full-time and 360 part-time students.

Reduction in the financial aid granted by the CNMI government under the Educational Assistance Program last year has resulted in a low turnout in the registration of part-time students at the College.

NMC officials have been instructed to make recommendations that would help maximize the cash-strapped Scholarship Fund, which has declined to $2 million from $4 million in light of slow business activity in the CNMI.

The regulation which limits financial assistance to full-time college students has been in effect since 1998, but NMC students were given a one year reprieve. The policy has applied to them since last year.

Some of the alternatives the College is currently looking at include tapping unexpended amount from the Teachers Scholarship fund, under which recipients receive $4,000.

The government is also looking at the possibility of providing local college students with an education financing program that would allow them to secure guaranteed bank loans to fund school expenses.

Under the proposed program, students would pay their educational loans once they finish schooling and are employed. The program is similar to the financial assistance extended by various American states to their college or university students.

In Fiscal Year 1998, the government spent $4 million for financial assistance while at least $2.5 million was appropriated for the same program last year. The figure represents over one percent of the total government budget and is about 7-8 percent of funding allotted to the Public School System.

The study-now-pay-later plan was included in the recommendations submitted by the administration in the form of legislation which seeks to modify and improve the current system of providing local college students with financial assistance.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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