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  • Writer's pictureBy Bea Cabrera

DOI grant gives island communities access to higher education

A technical assistant program grant from the U.S. Department of Interior will shoulder the membership fees of more island communities in the Blue Continent with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) that provides financing for higher learning opportunities for residents in the region.

Guam and the CNMI became members of WICHE in 2016 and 2012, respectively, and were instrumental in extending the opportunity to the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and Marshall Islands.

The collaboration among island leaders that came into fruition this week was considered historical and a milestone.

Vice Speaker Tina Muna Rose Barnes of the 36th Guam Legislature, who hosted a press conference Thursday morning, highlighted the perks of WICHE programs, such as the Western Undergraduate Exchange and Western Regional Graduate Program, which have helped students from Guam on non-resident tuition in over 170 western U.S. public colleges and universities.

“In 2019 and 2020, WICHE programs have provided Guam a 1,518 percent return of our yearly investment of $78,000 and, as a result, a lot of students and their families have saved 3.4 million since our participation in 2016. The University of Guam joined WICHE, and with the university degrees combined with WICHE graduate programs off-island offers a powerful combination for our students and our community,” she said.

“I appreciate the partnership between WICHE and the Guam Behavioral and Wellness Center, where WICHE has allowed us to join the psychology consortium and to assist the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center to address critical shortages,” Muna Barnes said.

Muna Barnes said the successful partnership between Guam and the CNMI inspired her to seek an extension of the benefits to the entire BlueCon.

“I had written to the governor of Guam and CNMI, as well as FSM president David W. Panuelo, Palua president Surangel Whipps Jr. and RMI president David Kabua and I sought their support for a DOI grant that my office had worked on with WICHE,” she said.

Last week, she said, WICHE president Demaree Michelau announced the good news: "that OIA will be absorbing WICHE our membership fees."

Michelau said the grant will cover the cost for fiscal 2022.

“This is for all six of the U.S. Pacific territories and freely associated states should all decide to join," Michelau said.

"Each of our 16 members benefits from the full range of WICHE programs including student access programs, which students throughout the region can save substantially on college tuition and a range of other WICHE programs and efforts, including policy analysis and research institutional collaboration initiatives, workforce development and behavioral health workforce training and assistance and technology policy and practice,” she added.

Michelau said Pacific Island members each bring unique perspectives and knowledge that will strengthen the impact and value of post-secondary education across the West.

"This grant is a testament to the visionary leadership and collaboration across the BlueCon. Together we can be trusted partners working to strengthen student access and success, as well as workforce in the region,” she added.

FSM, Palau and Marshall Islands leaders expressed their gratitude as new members of WICHE.

FSM President David W. Panuelo said that education means a lot for FSM and this will assist further the development of their human resources.

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. believes there is nothing more important than education and this will transform many lives in Palau.

In a written message, RMI President David Kabua said he is proud of being a member of WICHE. He said he has high hopes and anticipates the betterment and success of the Marshallese citizens.

Representing the CNMI, a member of WICHE for 19 years now were House Speaker Jude Hofshnieder and Press Secretary Kevin Bautista.

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