CNMI Accepted Into U.S. Higher Education Scheme

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WICHE membership means big savings for college tuition

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 29, 2012) – The Northern Marianas again made history after the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, or WICHE, formally accepted the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands as its newest member this month.

Northern Marianas College Board of Regents chair Juan Lizama and college president Sharon Hart, Ph.D., disclosed yesterday that after more than a year of working to make this happen, the 45-member WICHE commission unanimously voted for the inclusion of the CNMI at its Nov. 13 commission meeting in Utah.

The CNMI is the first of the Pacific Islands and U.S. territories to be accepted by the organization.

The CNMI is now the 16th member of WICHE, a regional, nonprofit organization that works to improve access to higher education and ensure student access through the states' student exchange programs and regional initiatives. Its other members are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Hart and Lizama said that membership in the organization will make CNMI students eligible for reduced tuition in 15 member states. For undergraduate programs, the reduced tuition for NMI students is at 150 percent of the resident tuition of that institution.

For example, the University of Nevada in Las Vegas charges resident students a tuition rate of $5,130 while nonresident students' tuition is at $19,040. A CNMI resident studying in this institution, because of its membership with WICHE, will be assessed a reduced tuition of $7,695-a savings of $11,345 if the CNMI student is charged a nonresident tuition rate.

For graduate students, more than 250 graduate programs will be available to them as a result of membership in the organization. CNMI students pursuing a master's or doctorate degree will pay the resident tuition rate of that institution instead of the tuition assessed foreign/nonresident enrollees. According to Hart, the cost-saving per student in graduate studies alone is projected at around $8,000 a year.

To avail of these benefits, member institutions require proof of residency from the students. CNMI citizens can physically attend to their choice courses or they could take programs online.

WICHE is the only organization in the West that focuses exclusively on higher education issues-from access and accountability to tuition and fees to distance learning and innovation, providing hard data on trends as well as analysis.

The CNMI spent $125,000 for its annual membership in WICHE. For the next membership fee, Hart revealed that Gov. Benigno R. Fitial has committed to providing the amount from his office's budget.

Hart said the CNMI's membership in the organization would not have been possible without the support of the Board of Regents, the governor, and the Legislature because WICHE requires each state government's commitment to the organization.

Hart disclosed that starting January 2013, CNMI citizens who will study or is studying in WICHE member states can avail of the reduced tuition rates and can take all programs offered by WICHE members.

Hart said this means off-island ongoing scholars-both from the NMI Scholarship Office and Saipan Higher Education Financial Assistance-can also avail of the benefits. Hart revealed that NMC had already communicated the good news to both scholarship offices so they could inform their scholars.

For Lizama, membership in WICHE will help the CNMI develop the professional pool it needs, especially in the medical field where local students can pursue higher education at a much lesser cost. According to him, membership in the organization will encourage citizens to explore more educational opportunities that, in the long term, will be a win-win for both students and the islands.

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