WASHINGTON, D.C.—Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) and 24 other Democrats introduced yesterday a 1,000-page bill to make it easier for Americans to get a college education.
The College Affordability Act includes Sablan’s proposal to allow graduates of Northern Marianas College to pay in-state tuition, when they go on to a four-year, public university for further education.
“We lifted the federal Pell grant 10 years ago high enough that most NMC students have all the cost of their tuition and books covered,” Sablan said. “But it has also been my goal to give our students help taking the next big step to go off-island for a baccalaureate degree that they cannot earn here in the Marianas. The College Affordability Act provides that help.”
The proposed act incorporates Sablan’s College Access Act, H.R. 2465, which allows the Commonwealth’s governor to award grants of up to $15,000 per year to NMC graduates to pay the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at four-year, public colleges or universities anywhere in America.
Interim NMC president Frankie Eliptico said that NMC supports Sablan’s bill. “Eligibility for future tuition assistance would…enhance the value of an NMC degree and encourage more Marianas high school graduates to stay at home for the first two years of college,” Eliptico said. “[We] strongly support the College Access Act as an investment in our future workforce by giving Marianas students another way to afford their education and enter rewarding careers.”
In addition to the in-state tuition grant, Marianas students will also continue to be eligible for Pell grants, which the Affordability Act increases by $500 and then permanently indexes to inflation. Unused Pell grant funds could be carried over for graduate studies.
Special provisions for Chamorro and Refaluwasch
The College Affordability Act incorporates four more of Sablan’s higher education initiatives. The bill makes NMC and the CNMI Public School System eligible for new federal funding to support Chamorro and Refaluwasch language education.
Grants could be used for curriculum development and for instruction for students from early childhood through high school. Sablan introduced this proposal as H.R. 4188, the Native American Language Vitalization Act, earlier this year.
He also included his Indigenous STEM Professional Development Act, H.R. 4222. That bill expands an existing program that helps Native Alaskan and Native Hawaiian students prepare for careers in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Chamorro and Refaluwasch would also now qualify for this assistance. Funds can be used to increase retention and graduation rates for these Pacific Islanders, when studying STEM fields, and to set up internships to help with the transition to the workforce.
Sablan also successfully negotiated to include funding for workforce development in the College Affordability Act. The bill doubles a current grant for career and technical education that goes to the Marianas, Guam, American Samoa, and Palau. The Marianas would receive $2.1 million over six years for training in high-skill, high-wage, or in-demand industry sectors. The funds could also be used for apprenticeships and improved career counseling.
More Sablan bills rolled into higher education proposal
Sablan’s Elevation of the Education Profession Act, H.R. 4424, was also made part of the College Affordability Act. The bill sets up an advisory committee to dig into various state government policies on teacher education and certification. The committee will then recommend to Congress better ways to prepare teachers and other school leaders and to support their work once they are employed in the nation’s schools.
Sablan, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, held a hearing in July on the question of why teachers leave the profession and how teacher turnover negatively affects students. As a result of the hearing, he wrote the Elevation of the Education Profession Act.
And the College Affordability Act includes the Simple FAFSA Act, which Sablan introduced last month. Simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA, will make it easier for students to apply for tuition assistance by eliminating unnecessary informational questions on the existing form. As many as 40% of students and their families give up before completing the FAFSA, leaving billions of federal school aid unused each year.
“Legislative ideas, like in-state tuition for Marianas students, simplifying FAFSA, putting more money into indigenous students and languages, are all proposals I have worked on for years,” Sablan said. “But getting them added to the larger legislation put forward by the Democratic majority to reauthorize higher education programs nationwide makes it much more likely that my ideas will be enacted into law.”
The House is expected to act on the College Affordability Act before the end of the year. (PR)