SAIPAN — Northern Marianas Technical Institute Chief Executive Officer Agnes McPhetres said trade schools are as essential as colleges and universities, and vital for economic development.
She said although trade institutions come with a hefty price tag, the investment is worth it because the students would contribute greatly to the local workforce.
NMTI, which is a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands government entity, recently reopened its doors to students.
Although it is operating at a limited capacity, NMTI offers a variety of courses, including electrical, automotive, plumbing and welding.
Noting that NMTI has the lowest cost per student nationwide, McPhetres said the institute has been stretching every penny it receives from donations and funds that were carried over from previous school years.
She said, despite constant pleas to the executive and legislative branches, the institute has not received the funding it desperately needs.
McPhetres said the CNMI government also needs to "step back" and allow the institute's board to do its job without "interference."
Otherwise, the institute's chances of receiving accreditation could be jeopardized, she added.
"They like to treat education as a political animal," McPhetres said, "but not enough attention is being given" to NMTI.
Northern Marianas College is accredited, and so its students are eligible for federal Pell Grants, said McPhetres, a former NMC president.
NMTI is not accredited, she added, so its students cannot avail themselves of such funding assistance from the federal government.
NMTI students also could not apply for the federal apprenticeship program that was offered in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
She said whenever funding allocations are determined, the CNMI government tends to prioritize the college before the institute.
NMTI needs to be adequately funded, she reiterated, because it must have the required trades equipment and gear.
"We are not YouTube university," said Ross Manglona, NMTI director of continuing education and workforce development.
He said trade students learn through hands-on training and not by just watching presentations and reading textbooks.
Dante Yumul, NMTI director of instruction, said despite its many challenges, the trade school has come a long way since its early days.
NMTI is currently working to further expand its internship program with local businesses.
Founded as a nonprofit institution in 2008 by the late local businessman Anthony Pellegrino, the trade school became a government entity with the enactment of Public Law 20-92 in February 2019.