Pacific Island Students Struggles at EOU

Written by Ella Taggart

EOU The Voice Multicultrual Center
Photo by Tiffany Collins/The Voice

Out of the 3,067 students that registered for Fall Term at Eastern Oregon University, a little over 100 of those students are from the Pacific Islands. Students in the Pacific Islands are a “target population” for recruitment, according to Bennie Moses-Mesubed, the Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion. The recruitment process is very similar to recruiters who go to high schools and community colleges here in the United States. They go to the schools, make presentations, and try to convince students that EOU is a good fit. These recruitment presentations lean towards the hopeful, presenting the price of living and tuition with naming ways to pay for it all, but without speaking plainly about the reality of the costs. After recruitment, and throughout their time at EOU, many of those 100 Pacific Island students run into financial struggles. These struggles can escalate to force the students to take a gap year.

Another reason many of Pacific Island students come to EOU is because Compacts of Free Association (COFA) allows them to. COFA is an agreement made by the United States to Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. This agreement allows students to come from those countries, enter into the US without a visa, and go to school. Two main financial strains on these students are the out-of-state tuition costs, and the fact that they cannot pay for school with student loans. 

Luckily, students do have quite a few resources available to them to assist in navigating their finances and other school related issues. Student Diversity and Inclusion provides many of these, and its director, Bennie Moses-Mesubed acts as a secondary advisor. She, and others, attempt to bridge the gap and help students navigate higher education. They can assist in budget planning, communication cultural differences with professors, and guide first-generation students. Trio and navigators club are both great resources for students because they help with homework and form a community. 

Joee Wong explained her experience coming to EOU as Pacific Island students. Wong stated that La Grande interested her because of how many Pacific Island students there were, and they said “I wanted to experience the cold weather, which I totally regret.” Both students participated in Navigators club, both lobbied in Salem last year in an attempt to get Pacific Island students in-state tuition, and both felt unprepared to approach finances when arriving in La Grande. When asked about the most important thing for other EOU students to know about Pacific Island student’s experience, Wong said that EOU students should know that Pacific Island student’s experiences are “a lot harder”. 

Some things the school and the student body can advocate for, in order to try to solve this problem, would be supporting in-state tuition for Pacific Island students or at least a reduced out-of-state, more scholarship opportunities, and implement a kick-start pre-orientation program that does not add expenses for the students and prepares them a little more for navigating higher education.

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