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By Moneth G. Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 13) –A Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands lawmaker is pleading with University of Hawaii’s board of regents not to increase the tuition of non-resident students by 50 percent.

This proposal is set to be discussed and finalized when the board meets on June 15-16.

Rep. Edwin P. Aldan, Covenant-Tinina, in a letter to Kitty Lagareta, chairwoman of the university’s board, said the people of the CNMI and other Pacific islanders have relied on the educational opportunities provided by the university for years.

"Unfortunately, the 50 percent increase in tuition for non-resident Pacific islanders as proposed within a revised student assistance program may rob thousands of students of an opportunity to attain their educational goals," Aldan said.

The university’s administration said students who are not residents of the state should not be eligible to pay the same tuition rate as those who are.

Northern Marianas College also charges nonresident students higher tuition.

Jim Mellon, the director of student development at the University of Hawaii in Hilo, said the proposed changes are "problematic" and should not be adopted by the board.

He said it decreases access to higher education and instead of providing opportunities for Pacific islanders. "UH is closing the door on them," he said.

Mellon believes that even if a student is awarded a maximum Pell Grant, it would not cover the cost of tuition, books, housing, food and other educational expenses.

He added, "Charging a tuition rate that most students from the Pacific cannot afford is hardly doing a service to the region, it is more like closing down a bridge that has existed for many years."

Mellon said while Pacific islanders are not residents of Hawaii, they are different from other non-residents from other U.S. states or from other countries who have options to enroll in baccalaureate granting universities in their home states or nation.

"The Pacific islanders affected by this proposal do not have that option," he said.

For decades, he added, the university system has included Pacific island students from jurisdictions that do not have public higher educational institutions granting baccalaureate degrees as eligible for statutory exemption, meaning they are charged the resident tuition rate.

This policy has demonstrated the university’s commitment to provide higher educational opportunities for these students, Mellon said.

June 13, 2006

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