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Northern Marianas College Again Faces Accreditation Issues
Commission cites inability to fill key administrative positions

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 15, 2013) – The accreditation of the Northern Marianas College (NMC) was again placed under the most severe sanction after the institution failed to correct deficiencies identified by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ lone community college was slapped with a show-cause status, which means the commission found the institution in substantial non-compliance with eligibility requirements, accreditation standards, policies, or it has not responded to conditions imposed by the commission.

NMC, however, remains accredited during the show-cause period.

The commission, in its decision announced by the college yesterday, ordered NMC to submit by Oct. 15, 2013, two documents: a show-cause report and a closure report. These reports will then be verified by commission representatives during a visit to the college.

In a letter to NMC president Sharon Y. Hart, Ph.D., commission president Barbara A. Beno, Ph.D., cited the college's failure to address the commission's Eligibility Requirement No. 5, which pertains to the administrative capacity.

ACCJC specifically cited NMC's failure to hire a chief financial officer (CFO), a director for information technology, and other administrative positions that affect the college's ability to meet standards. Beno said the commission is concerned that the college does not have enough staff with appropriate preparation and experience to support its operations.

It will be recalled that the CFO position was among those eliminated by Hart last year. It was later reinstated by the Board of Regents. However, the position remains vacant up to now and the CFO functions and duties are being handled by the dean of administration, a newly created position.

NMC was also found non-compliant with Eligibility Requirement No. 13, which means NMC has not established in policy the minimum qualifications for persons who are employed as faculty members.

It also has not consistently conducted annual faculty evaluations. ACCJC found that many of the faculty graduate degrees are in teaching or education, rather than in the discipline to which they are assigned to teach.

According to Beno, all these issues were clearly identified in the 2012 evaluation team report but were not addressed by the college in its October report.

Other deficiencies

One of the commission's notable recommendations was for the Board of Regents to revisit its policy of appointing non-voting honorary regents who sit on the board and regularly engage in discussions related to policy issues.

"As these members represent faculty senate, staff senate, and student senate groups, the practice violates accreditation standards that require board independence," said Beno, adding that the existence of these honorary regents suggests that the college council does not truly act as the advisory group to the president.

Beno said this has been identified as a concern for many years but was never addressed.

For other standards, the commission said that the student survey data used to assess learning at the college, while helpful, does not capture or adequately assess student learning.

The college was also urged to develop and consistently apply, clear criteria in determining qualifications for faculty.

The two-year rule

Based on a U.S. Department of Education mandate, a college or university must meet all standards of accreditation within the two years of receiving a sanction of "probation" or "warning."

Because NMC has already exceeded this two-year window, Beno warned that termination of the accreditation is a sure thing for NMC in January 2014 if it still fails to address all concerns.

"Unless the commission finds during its January 2014 meeting that NMC met its burden to show that it has fully resolved the deficiencies noted in this action letter, the commission will act to terminate accreditation, effective at the end of the spring semester 2014," said Beno.

ACCJC also expressed concern about Hart's expiring contract in July this year, saying that NMC has yet to act whether to retain the current leadership or recruit a new president. Beno advised the board to immediately act on this.

Assurance

Hart, who is at an off-island conference, assured everyone that the institution will continue to address all citations by the deadline.

"Northern Marianas College has worked very hard to organize itself and to meet the required accreditation standards. I know this is not the news we were hoping for, yet let me assure the NMC employees, students, and the community that we will work hard over these next nine months to be in substantial compliance," she said in a statement yesterday.

Regents chair Juan T. Lizama, for his part, said: "We will continue to work hard to address the recommendations which specifically point to areas of weaknesses that we must improve upon."

NMC was placed on continued probation in 2010. Based on the USDOE's two-year rule, NMC should have met all standards by 2012. Before this, the college was placed either on show-cause or continued show-cause status in 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2013. NMC has been accredited by the ACCJC since 1985.

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