In 2012, the CNMI was the first member from the Pacific Western side of the United States—informally called the Blue Continent—to join the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Guam followed in 2016. Both the CNMI and Guam now welcomes the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands as the newest WICHE members.
Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs that shouldered their membership fees, these three countries—collectively called the Freely Associated States—now join the CNMI and Guam as members of WICHE, a Colorado-based non-profit organization that provide access to various student development programs and scholarships for college tuition and higher learning. Essentially, students from WICHE members get tuition discounts and scholarships in college.
In announcing the OIA grant award via an online press conference, WICHE president Demaree Michelau said the OIA grant will actually cover the membership cost for all six U.S. Pacific territories and Freely Associated States in fiscal year 2022.
She said members benefits from the full range of WICHE programs that include student access programs, where students throughout the region can save substantially on college tuition.
“Our Pacific Island members each bring unique perspective and knowledge that will only strengthen the impact and value of postsecondary education across the West. This grant is a testament to the visionary leadership and collaboration across the [Blue Continent]. Together we can be trusted partners working to strengthen student access and success, as well as workforce in the region,” she added.
Representing the CNMI at the online press conference were House Speaker Jude Hofschnieder and press secretary Kevin Bautista. “Since our WICHE membership back in 2012 when I briefly served as lieutenant governor…I’ve seen it evolve and grow over time. Through that initiative, parents and students in the CNMI have achieved a lot of financial savings and, despite the setbacks—natural disasters and now the pandemic—our partnership with WICHE it is still growing. We look forward to being partners with the rest of our Blue Continent brothers and sister as we forge ahead,” Hofschnieder said
“As a result of our membership with WICHE, we were able to muster a couple of important legislations that I gladly authored and that is the creation of the Professional Student Exchange Program that allowed us to have some of our students in the medical field enrolled in the various WICHE partner schools. …Under this program, we require that for every year that you get a support fee from the CNMI, you are to perform two years of service when you return…,” he added.
Hofschnieder also mentioned that he sponsored a bill that is now before the committee that creates a Behavioral Health Scholarship Program. “We have had good guidance from our partners at WICHE,” he said
Speaking in behalf of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres who is off-island, Bautista said that, as the first U.S. Pacific territory to join WICHE in 2012, the CNMI can attest to the benefits of being a WICHE member. “Here in the CNMI, WICHE has allowed local families to save a total of $3.5 million in tuition, a savings benefit that we feel should be extended to the entire Pacific Blue Continent …This marks the start, a step in higher educational attainment for the Pacific,” he added.
The online press conference was also attended by FSM president David W. Panuelo, Palau president Surangel Whipps Jr., RMI president David Kabua, Guam vice speaker Tina Muna Rose Barnes, Guam Sen. Mary Camacho Torres, and Guam Sen. Amanda Shelton, among others.