Tribal scholarships delayed again

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Jan. 5, 2012

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The Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Assistance announced Tuesday that scholarship and financial assistance awards for the spring semester are on hold until federal funds become available.

Rose Graham, scholarship office director, said the office understands the students' concerns but cannot make any commitments until funding is received.

The purpose of ONNSFA is to dispense financial assistance to eligible applicants who demonstrate financial need based on income. It also administers merit-based aid such as the Chief Manuelito Scholarship.

Federal funding is received through the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. According to the ONNSFA Web site, 80 percent of the funds are used for need-based assistance with 20 percent set aside for academic scholarships and college developmental awards.

As in the past, the funding delay is related directly to the dysfunction in Congress, which could not agree on the 2012 budget.

Due to the delay, all federal agencies were operating on continuing resolutions and were limited in the amount of funding that could be allocated, Graham said.

President Obama finally received and signed a spending bill in mid-December, and federal agencies are sorting out the details.

ONNSFA has not received notice of the amount it will get for fiscal 2012.

Once it knows, there is still a formal procedure to accept federal funds and deposit them into proper accounts so that awards can be made to the recipients, she said.

"As long as ONNSFA depends upon legislative processes at the federal and Navajo Nation level for appropriations, any developments or delays will impact it," Graham said.

Graham said her office hopes that notice of the delay would help students make alternative arrangements and seek additional resources to cover their costs as they start the spring semester.

She noted that the office experienced a similar delay in spring 2011 and a majority of students did not receive their financial aid until mid-semester.

The scholarship office received 9,971 applications for undergraduate and graduate scholarships for the spring semester.

Among those who applied was Johnelle Thompson, a full-time student at the University of New Mexico-Gallup, who read about the delay Saturday in a local newspaper.

"It's like smashing our dreams, our education goals, when we can't pay for our education," Thompson said.


In order to pay tuition for the spring semester, she applied for a second federal student loan.

She said there were a number of other Navajo students applying for loans when she visited the UNM-G's financial aid office Tuesday.

Thompson needs two more semesters to complete an associate degree in general business.

In addition to the tribal scholarship, she receives a federal Pell grant but the tribal scholarship pays the majority of her tuition.

Since Thompson started her undergraduate studies, she has heard the tribal scholarship office's advice to apply for additional financial assistance, and has done so.

She said she has searched online and submitted scholarship applications, but has not had any luck so far. Most of the scholarships awarded by UNM-G are geared toward nursing and engineering students.

Thompson is confident her tuition will be paid by the time the semester starts Jan. 17 but she worries about other students who are just now starting to apply for loans. The process can take seven to 10 days to complete and chances are those students will be dropped from their classes before money comes through to cover their tuition, she worries.

Matthew Skeets is an English major at UNM's main campus in Albuquerque.

When the news was posted on the UNM KIVA Club Facebook page Tuesday, Skeets asked if the delay would impact recipients of the Navajo Nation's top award, the Chief Manuelito Scholarship.

"If it does, I'll be calling her first thing in the morning," he wrote. "I am not working hard for nothing."

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Skeets said he was "worried and upset" about the scholarship delay because that money would have paid for his textbooks, housing and transportation expenses.

As for his tuition, that is paid for by a New Mexico lottery scholarship.

Skeets said he is not considering a student loan but some of his friends are taking that route in order to keep their classes.

"The student loan process is easier than getting a Navajo Nation scholarship," he said.

Information: www.onnsfa.org or 928-871-7444.

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