Education Specialist Billen Says Pohnpei School Dropout Rate "Very High"

by Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (Marianas Variety): August 23, 2002 - The dropout rate among high school students in Pohnpei is "very high," which puts more pressure on the federally funded adult basic education program, according to a visiting official from the Pohnpei Department of Education.

Wehns Billen, the department's adult education specialist, said their "problem" is the U.S. government's decision to reduce financial aid to the Freely Associated States (Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau).

Billen said this year their budget is down over $50,000, reflecting a 50 percent drop from their funding level two years ago.

Our main concern now is because of our Compact, our funding level has been affected. It's been on a declining basis," Billen said. "That means reduction of services. So we'll just try to live within our means," he added.

In Pohnpei, the Adult Basic Education Program is administered through Pohnpei College.

Billen said they are serving 30 students in Pohnpei and an additional 60 students in the vocational program, who need additional help in mathematics and English.

Billen said they are now planning to introduce the program in the state of Kosrae.

"It's still in the infancy stage but we're working on their application for funding," Billen said.

He said they are trying to reach as many students as they can but there are other factors involved, such as the lack of mass transportation.

"We do not have public transportation," Billen said.

But despite these problems, Billen said the retention rate among their enrolled students is "very encouraging."

"We have a very low dropout rate. I think because students like to stay and many of them like to have some instruction before they take the GED," he said.