The Department of State, in response to Congressional interest, developed and implemented a pilot scholarship program for students from countries with a significant Muslim population. The Office of Overseas Schools and the Office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (NEA/PI) held an open competition among eligible Department-assisted schools in predominately Muslim countries to offer scholarships to host country students in locations in the Middle East and North Africa. Congress designated funds for this program as part of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI, a presidential initiative that supports economic, political and educational reform efforts in the Middle East and expanded opportunity for all people of the region, especially women and youth). The funds, earmarked in the FY2006 Appropriations Bill, must be obligated by September 30, 2012, a requirement guaranteeing that all students beginning the program are able to complete it. A second year of funding was provided for the MEPI Program and was used in FY2008 to continue and expand the scholarship program in 2008-2009. Similarly, funding for a third year was awarded to be used in FY2009 for the continuation and further expansion of the scholarship program in 2009-2010. Schools applying for a grant must be located in a country served by MEPI, offer an accredited American/international curriculum for students in grades 7-12, have a Grant Request Automated Submission Program (GRASP) on file with OS, and be receiving assistance from that office.
A third round of funding for MEPI scholarships was awarded in 2008 to be used by students entering grade 7 in school year 2009-2010. After this funding was awarded, MEPI grants were as follows:
There were a total of 27 boys and 27 girls in the program for the 2009-2010 school year. Eighteen MEPI Scholars were in grade 7, 19 in grade 8, 16 in grade 9, and 1 in grade 10. Five of the MEPI Scholars are 12 years old, 18 are 13 years old, 15 are 14 years old, and 16 are 15 years old. Only one student had difficulty academically and had to leave the program. That student was replaced by a new student accepted for grade 8 in school year 2009-2010.
The MEPI Scholarship program is intended as a pilot to assess whether the recipients from low and moderate income families can learn English and critical thinking skills and gain a respect for diversity. These grants represent potential strategically significant opportunities in meeting education program objectives and broader U.S. democracy-promotion goals. After the second year, all of the schools reported that all of the students did well academically, made excellent progress in learning and developing skills that will lead to college matriculation and made significant progress in learning English. The schools’ leaders believe that the MEPI Program is beneficial to the students and their families and that they will look for ways to enhance the program with each new group of students that participates.