Proposed Fee Changes Could Imperil Northern Marianas Trades Institute

Vocational education in jeopardy if governor allocated CW-1 fees from Labor Department to Scholarship Office

By Erwin Encinares

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, July 19, 2017) – The Northern Marianas Trades Institute opposes a plan to transfer the fees taken from each CW-1 application to the CNMI Scholarship Office, arguing that this would ultimately lead to the demise of the vocational school.

In a letter to Senate President Arnold Palacios (R-Saipan), NMTI chief executive officer Agnes McPhetres said that transferring the funds from the CNMI Department of Labor to the CNMI Scholarship Office—as outlined by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres in his fiscal year 2018 budget—would prevent trade schools like NMTI from “expanding their current program offerings to meet the manpower workforce training demand.”

Without prior planning, this change could ultimately shut down NMTI, she added.

“… This new approach regarding [the] use of CW funds may cause NMTI to close down, thus leaving vocational and trades education in limbo once again,” McPhetres said.

Transferring the funds could also possibly contradict Public Law 110-229, which mandates that the fees “shall be paid…for the purpose of funding ongoing vocational educational curricula and program development by the Commonwealth educational entities,” McPhetres added.

“While the aim of this new approach regarding CW funding may be to give students increased financial resources to further their vocational and trades education, it prevents local vocational/trades entities from expanding their current program offerings to meet the manpower workforce training demand,” she wrote.

McPhetres pointed out that, unlike the Public School System and the Northern Marianas College, which are financially assisted by the CNMI government, NMTI is “a fairly new endeavor” not supported by annual appropriations.

“By not being able to depend on an approved level of funding prior to the offering of classes, NMTI cannot make highly critical plans with regards to hiring qualified instructors and staff for program implementation,” she said.

McPhetres further pointed out that students of NMC receive federal financial aid such as the Pell grant. Because of this, NMC may create plans to provide a “cushion during the implementation of this new strategy.”

“Had the proposal given NMTI at least one fiscal year to transition, we could have created other strategies to alleviate some of the potentially adverse effects,” she added.

‘Greater transparency’

The Torres administration has defended the proposal, saying that moving the CW fees to the CNMI Scholarship Office was proposed in the fiscal year 2018 budget to “achieve greater transparency.”

Under U.S. Public Law 110-229, CNMI employers pay $460 for each CW worker they want to hire. A portion of that, $150, goes back to the CNMI to fund the training of U.S. qualified workers.

According to a Torres administration statement, moving the administration of CW fees to the Scholarship Office will allow for “greater transparency with the disbursement of the funds [and] will also allow the Scholarship Office to develop a plan that accurately indicates the Commonwealth’s goals of achieving a benchmark of educated and skilled workers.”

Saipan Tribune has yet to sit down with the Scholarship Office to discuss their plans on how to allocate the CW fees.

Although administering the CW fees would fall on the CNMI Scholarship Office, the move “does not undermine the DOL’s roles in workforce development,” the administration said.

It reasoned that the Scholarship Office is the primary government agency for the disbursement of educational financial assistance for CNMI students and residents.

“The Scholarship Office, in collaboration with DOL, will make the funds available for seeking higher education and training, technical training, or vocational education and trades available offered by CNMI educational entities certified by DOL,” the administration said, citing establishments that offer such courses such as NMC, NMTI, Latte Training Academy, Island Training Solutions, etc.

Saipan Tribune
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