The Federated States of Micronesia is seeking to join the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) in hopes of providing Micronesian students an opportunity to gain access to lower tuition at American universities. Despite the $3 million national scholarship program, FSM President David Panuelo said several Micronesian students studying abroad are forced to drop out of college due to the spiraling matriculation fees in U.S. educational institutions. “Unfortunately, the cost of higher education in the United States has risen at a much faster rate than our revenues have grown,” Panuelo wrote in a March 19 letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Debra Anne Haaland.
“In fact, when adjusted for inflation, the real cost of attending a four-year university in the U.S. has increased by 50 percent in the last 20 years. Thus, our scholarship dollars are worth less today than they were even a few years ago,” the president added. The FSM National Scholarship program supports students entering fields that are in high demand in the workforce, such as education.
“In addition to the $3 million in local revenue, $1 million of U.S. funding is distributed to scholarship programs in the four states, which each set their own criteria based on their local needs and priorities,” Panuelo said. FSM’s membership with WICHE, Panuelo said, would allow FSM students to qualify for 150 percent of in-state tuition for eligible undergraduate programs, and in-state tuition for eligible graduate studies, significantly reducing the cost of these degrees. Panuelo took a cue from Guam Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, who has requested the Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs to consider funding the annual WICHE membership fee for the U.S.-affiliated Pacific islands, including the FSM. “Through a partnership with Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, we see a remedy to this challenge. Both Guam and CNMI recently joined the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, and have advocated for the inclusion of the freely associated states in this consortium,” Panuelo told Haaland. Most U.S.-bound FSM students go to Guam, Hawaii, Washington State, and Oregon to pursue higher education. “These jurisdictions, along with Alaska, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, North Dakota, and South Dakota, are WICHE members,” states a press release from the Office of FSM President. “Thus, the FSM’s membership in WICHE would mean that an FSM student choosing to study in any of these jurisdictions would qualify for these significantly reduced tuition rates.”
Panuelo also wrote to Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr., Marshall Islands President David Kabua, and American Samoa Gov. Lemanu Peleti Maug suggesting that they too join WICHE. “As a graduate of Eastern Oregon University,” Panuelo said in a statement, “I am acutely aware of the value in achieving higher education and how it contributes to our nation-building process. I look forward to building a productive working relationship with Secretary Haaland, and hope that our nation's students are able to enjoy the benefit of significantly reduced tuition at more than 160 participating universities and colleges as soon as possible.”