PALIKIR, Pohnpei—On July 1 , 2021, His Excellency David W. Panuelo—President of theFederated States of Micronesia (FSM)—joined His Excellency Surangel S. Whipps Jr., President of the Republic of Palau, the Honorable Tina Muña-Barnes, Vice Speaker of the Guam Legislature, the Honorable Jude U. Hofschneider, Senate President of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Dr. Demarée Michelau, President of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE), et al., in a press conference to announce that the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has accepted the application of a grant to cover the WICHE membership fees for the entire U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands, including the FSM. With the FSM joining WICHE, the practical result for the Nation’s youth is that an FSM student will soon qualify for 150% of in-state tuition for eligible undergraduate programs, and in-state tuition for eligible graduate studies, significantly reducing the cost of these degrees at more than 160 colleges and universities across the United States of America.
Citizens may recall that, on March 19th 2021, President Panuelo sent a letter to the Honorable Debra Anne Haaland, Secretary of the U.S. DOI, requesting the FSM’s membership in WICHE, with the fees funded by the DOI’s Office of Insular Affairs to cover the whole of the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands. The letter was sent as a response to the letter from the Vice Speaker of the U.S. Territory of Guam, the Honorable Tina Muña-Barnes, requesting DOI’s Office of Insular Affairs to considerfunding the WICHE annual membership fee for the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands, including the FSM, with the purpose of demonstrating the Nation’s enthusiastic endorsement of that request.
The rationale for the FSM’s membership in WICHE is simple: higher education is expensive—some citizens may argue excessively so—and FSM students studying abroad often dropout because they are not able to afford it, despite the FSM funding three million dollars ($3,000,000) annually for the FSM National Scholarship program. Allowing FSM students to qualify for significantly reduced tuition fees will have the dual effect of ensuring more students stay in school (by lessening the number of dropouts due to heavy financial burdens), and increasing the actual number of FSM students attending U.S. colleges and universities through the FSM National Scholarship program.
“I want to thank the President of WICHE, Dr. Demarée Michelau, the Vice Speaker of the Guam Legislature, Tina Rose Muña-Barnes, and Secretary Haaland of [U.S. DOI] for this very good news,” President Panuelo said at the press conference. “It is indeed an honor to be part of this family, and to enjoy the fruits of our labor and the generosity of the [U.S. DOI]. On behalf of our country and our citizens…I thank you all. I am myself a product of the U.S. education system through my time
at Eastern Oregon University…and I know what education really means for our country and for our youth. By assisting the development of our human resources, you are helping the Nation-building process of our respective countries and territories throughout the Blue Pacific Continent.”
FSM citizens disproportionately journey to the U.S. Territory of Guam, the U.S. State of Hawaii, the U.S. State of Washington, and the U.S. State of Oregon to acquire their Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate degrees. These jurisdictions, along with Alaska, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, North Dakota, and South Dakota, are WICHE members. Thus, the FSM’s membership in WICHE means that an FSM student choosing to study in any of these jurisdictions would qualify for these significantly reduced tuition rates.
“The savings are genuinely significant,” President Panuelo said in a statement following the press conference. “I am told by our Department of Education that undergraduate non-resident off- campus tuition at the University of Guam is $27,692 per year; WICHE membership will save the family paying that $5,040 a year by turning $27,692 into $22,652. Or, at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, I am told that undergraduate non-resident off-campus tuition is $44,854 per year. WICHE membership will save the family paying that $12,960 a year by turning $44,854 into $31,894. This is what we’ll see at the undergraduate level.”
“The graduate-level savings are also very significant,” President Panuelo continued. “I am told that the tuition for a non-resident graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is $40,989 per year. WICHE membership gives FSM citizens the equivalent of in-state or resident tuition, so the family or the Government through our scholarship program will save $12,032 as $40,989 turns into $28,957 per year.”
“Per our conversation today,” President Panuelo said, “I thank the offer by WICHE’s President, Dr. Demarée Michelau, to engage me at the nearest opportunity so we can complete the onboarding process, and get our students and their families to see the positive financial effects of the FSM joining WICHE immediately.”