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Senators want scholarship board to change loan policy

Senators have urged the ASG Student Financial Aid board, or scholarship board, to thoroughly review local law dealing with the student loan program which targets low income families, and recently advised its chairman to review the board's old policy that says only students with a 3.5 grade point average and above qualify for student loans.


The most passionate urging — in the form of a plea — came from Senators Galeai Tuufuli and Magalei Logovi’i. Magalei shared some personal details about the challenges he faced growing up in a Samoan speaking family and entering college with a “C” grade point average, yet he still managed to graduate from college.


This was the third Senate Government Operations Committee hearing on the scholarship and loan program with the first held in early March. What concerned senators the most is the fact that the loan program was established to help students from low income families, but those were not necessarily the ones being given the chance, due to policies set by previous boards.


The third hearing was delayed until the Fono fully endorsed the nominee of Rev. Kalepo Vaitautolu, who is also the scholarship board chairman. Final confirmation was handed down by the Senate late last month and Vaitautolu attended the hearing.


With the board chairman present, committee chairman Galeai said this new board should consult an attorney from the government to work on new policies moving forward, and take a careful look at the law pertaining to the student loan program.


He said information received by the Senate shows that the scholarship board is not fully complying with the student loan provision of the law, which was intended to provide financial support for students from low income families — to help them attend college.


The Senator said the only qualification in the law for student loans, is to be from a low income family — adding that students whose GPA is 3.0 and below should still qualify under the board’s policy as long as they have already been accepted by a college.


Galeai said the Senate had recommended in previous hearings (which the board chairman had not attended) for the scholarship board to seek legal advice from a government attorney, at the Attorney General’s Office or the Governor’s Office, to assist with a clear interpretation of the law.


They advised that this attorney should also assist the board in drafting and approving new policies instead of using the ones, which are in conflict with the law pertaining to student loans, Galeai said.


“The board must set up policies in accordance with the law and the only criteria in the student loan program, as prescribed by law, are the financial needs of the student, and having been accepted by an off island college or university,” Galeai stressed to the board chairman. “You're using old policies from the previous board," he added.


Sen. Magalei Logovi’i said that the board’s requirement of a 3.5 GPA for ASCC and 3.8 GPA for off island colleges to qualify for loans does not provide any help to Samoan students from low income families. He said not many Samoan students are able to achieve these set GPAs and they should be adjusted.


“As emphasized by Sen. Galeai and fellow senators, our concerns with this set GPA policy for a Samoan student, who comes from a low income family, is that the first language is Samoan spoken in the family and English is rarely or never used. It’s very hard for that Samoan kid to reach a 3.5 GPA,” Magalei said.


Alluding to cultural differences, the senator also pointed out that it’s a well-known fact that in recent years, Valedictorians have been students with “mixed Samoan blood” benefiting from the board’s policies, and not 100% Samoan.


He reminded the board chairman that a student from “a low income family, who is trying to survive, doesn’t have time to study because the Samoan parents want them to do their chores, [while] a student from a well established family... never has to go to the plantation or do the umu, or those kind of chores faced by a kid from a low income Samoan family.”


Magalei said, “The student from the low income family would likely... get a 2.5 GPA and the parents face financial hardship in trying to put that kid through college, even a community college to get an AA [degree].”


He urged the board chairman to take into serious consideration the concerns, recommendations and information from senators, in putting together policies to ensure that qualified students from low income families gets a share of student loan monies provided by the government.


Magalei then shared that he grew up in a low income Samoan family, in which Samoan was spoken all the time. He had chores to do every day. “And for you to raise the GPA to 3.5 and 3.8 [that means] a poor kid like me is not going to make it” or get financial help, he said.


However, the senator said that with persistence and with the thought in mind that he did not like to see himself and his family in the future go through the same type of financial hardship, he was able to graduate with a “C” GPA, and get into an off island college and graduate.


“You must do more to help students from low income families by lowering the GPA, as long as the student is accepted into a college,” he pleaded with the board chairman.


(A graduate of BYU-Hawaii in 1974, Magalei — a former Budget Office director and former ASG Treasurer — holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration.)


Vaitautolu acknowledged the concerns raised by the committee, as well as the recommendations, saying that this is a new board and the hearing provided a lot of great input for the board to consider, including the one to get an attorney to work on the board’s policies.


Galeai and other senators said that they will be calling another hearing when the Fono returns in July to find out about the new policies of the board,and how they are going to assist low income students. He said they will also ask for an update on the scholarship board’s financial statement.