Students at the Northern Marianas College have been spared tuition increases for spring semester 2015. The hike would have raised tuition by 35 percent.
In a special Board of Regents meeting on Friday, the board chose not to follow through with the proposed increases for the spring semester. The tuition hike had been proposed along with a 57-percent increase in fees.
In an interview, board chair Frank Rabauliman said the decision was to make sure the college “exhausts all other opportunities” first.
He said the decision to raise tuition was “not an easy task” and would have to be justified.
“We need to be very cautious with our review. Students are our first and foremost concern,” he said.
A tuition increase would be on the shoulders of the students, he added.
According to him, the last tuition increase occurred back in 2005. The proposed increase this year was at the request of college administration, he said.
One reason given was that the college compared its average salaries for personnel with peer institutions and saw that their salaries were “way off,” he said.
With the decision, Rabauliman said the college now has more time to review other funding options such as grants from the Office of Insular Affairs for technical assistance or personnel.
It was reported to the board that none of the college’s major programs in nursing, education, and business avail of federal funds. The board has tasked the college to look into federal funding sources for these programs, according to Leo Pangelinan, dean of Student Service.
Riya Nathrani, president of the Associated Students of NMC, said she supported the board’s decision for further review. Nathrani has protested the hikes on behalf of the student body.
“This will give students more time to take it in. They can use next semester to plan ahead for their financial needs. Students will be much more prepared. I think the board made a good decision,” she said.
William Torres, chairman of the fiscal committee, said until the college can realize internal cost-savings and tap into external funds, the raising of tuition rates is “premature.”
Essentially the college has to recalibrate the way it spends it funds, he said, and report a “picture of its financial needs” to the board for its program and activities before tuition can be raised.
Until now, he said, the college does not have on record “net instructional costs” for its programs and activities.
“It is premature to increase tuition at the level it’s being requested,” he said.
How the college pays for its instructional overloads need to be looked at, he said. Right now payments are based on employee rates rather than through independent contract.
The latter, he said, would save 30 percent off the regular overload costs.
The college must also look at its utilities cost, he said, with over a half a million spent on utilities.
Savings will come from more efficient upgrades to their facilities. He reported that a $300,000 bid for energy-efficient air-conditioning would soon be awarded.
Torres expects the board to look at the tuition issue again in the summer.
“Until the college provides all sufficient information, the board has very little foundation to make this decision,” he said.
Most of the proposed use of funds from an increased tuition is for non-instructional services. He said the board is “quite concerned” with this fact.
He said in the future the college might need to engage an independent outside firm for an “operational efficiency and effectiveness management audit.”
Something like this, he said, would help align the structure and services of the college.
Academic programs and activities might also have to be “rebalanced” to better serve the mission of the college, he added.