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Marianas Variety: Agenda 116: Kilili adds in-state tuition for NMC grads to higher ed bill; Democrats look ahead to control in the 116th Congress (August 6, 2018)

(Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate) — U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan has included his plan to give Northern Marianas College graduates in-state tuition, when they go to a U.S. public university for a bachelor’s degree, as part of the new Aim Higher Act.

Aim Higher lays out the federal policies for higher education that Democrats intend to enact in the next Congress. Sablan is an original co-sponsor of the Aim Higher Act, H.R. 6543, which already has 49 co-sponsors.

“Expanding educational opportunity for Marianas college students is now the second goal in my Agenda 116,” Sablan announced. Agenda 116 is Sablan’s legislative to-do list for the next, 116th Congress.

“The prospect of a Democratic majority means my NMC proposal is now part of our national agenda. Democrats are going to make sure every student in America can get a degree or credential that leads to a rewarding career, debt-free.”

Republicans on the House Education Committee have their own higher education bill. But it cuts nearly $15 billion from student aid and shifts federal dollars toward low-quality, for-profit schools that often leave students with debt and no degree. So far, Republicans cannot get enough votes to pass this flawed bill, even though they have the majority in the House.

With Democrats in the majority next year Sablan is expected to have a lead role in passing the Aim Higher Act. With 10 years of seniority, the Marianas Congressman is in line be a subcommittee Chairman in the House Education Committee.

‘Getting in on the ground floor’

Sablan has made education his priority in Congress. His work is already helping many students at Northern Marianas College attend debt-free. Kilili was an original co-sponsor of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, Public Law 111-148, in 2010. The Act has raised federal Pell grants and made more students in the Marianas and nationwide eligible for this tuition assistance.

As a result, over one thousand NMC students — 81 percent of enrollment — now receive Pell grants. The average grant of $4,289 fully covers NMC tuition and fees.

“Call it ‘piggybacking’ or ‘getting in on the ground floor,’ we proved over and over that putting Marianas-specific language in important national legislation, when it is written, is the sure way to get the changes my constituents want,” Congressman Kilili said.

Sablan previously included a funding formula change for island elementary and secondary schools in the Every Student Succeeds Act, Public Law 114-95. And he included $32.5 million to move the Marianas closer to the national food stamp program in the Agricultural Act of 2014, Public Law 113-79.

Because of Kilili’s work, Marianas schools received an extra $4.1 million this year, which will continue annually. And food stamp recipients in the Marianas are now getting U.S. level benefits.

Responsible for all Pacific Island students

Earlier in this Congress, Sablan offered his federally supported tuition proposal in committee, as an amendment to the Republican higher education bill. Even though the amendment covered American Samoa Community College graduates and that territory is represented in Congress by Republican Amata Radewagen, Republicans defeated the Sablan amendment.

But Congressman Sablan decided to keep American Samoa in the Democratic Aim Higher Act and make it part of his Agenda 116. “As a Pacific Islander, I feel a responsibility to all of the people of the Pacific Islands,” Kilili said.

“That responsibility is larger than politics. I do not want students in American Samoa left behind.”

In the statement introducing the Aim Higher Act, Democrats repeated Sablan’s vision of inclusion: “All students, regardless of whether they reside on the continental U.S. or its territories, should have an opportunity to pursue an affordable four-year college degree.

“The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa have substantially limited academic offerings for students seeking higher education. Each has just a small public college, providing primarily certificates and associate degrees, which hinders many students in these territories from pursuing a college degree beyond two-years.”

Sablan’s Tuition Assistance Grant Program in the Aim Higher Act authorizes $5 million dollars to cover the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition costs for students who graduate from the American Samoa or Northern Marianas community colleges with two-year degrees. It is modeled after an existing program for students from the District of Columbia.

The first announced plank of Sablan’s Agenda 116 was the Northern Mariana Islands Workforce Stabilization Act, H.R. 6578, introduced on July 26. The Stabilization Act gives permanent status in the Marianas to foreign investors, who first came to the islands under Commonwealth immigration law. It also gives permanent status to long-term workers, as defined in Sablan’s U.S. Workforce Act, Public Law 115-218, signed on July 24.

Congressman Sablan will be releasing more of his Agenda 116 over the coming weeks.

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