Link: Pacific Islands Report
Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Federal Funds At Risk If NMI College Issues Go Unaddressed
About 80 percent of students’ educations financed with grants

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 20, 2013) – Northern Marianas College (NMC) students face two potential grave impacts if the Commonwealth’s lone community college loses its accreditation with the Accrediting Commission on Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), according to NMC president Sharon Y. Hart, Ph.D., yesterday.

First, students cannot obtain any federal financial aid because these grants for college programs are awarded and provided only to accredited institutions.

Second, a loss of accreditation will affect the ability of NMC students to transfer their credits since most universities and colleges honor and accept credits only from accredited institutions.

Hart disclosed to Saipan Tribune that about 80 percent of those currently attending NMC avail of federal financial assistance. These students may potentially stop their studies if federal grants stop coming.

NMC receives a significant amount of federal grants each year. In fiscal year 2012 alone, the college got $9 million in federal monies, not including funds from special federal awards such as the American Recovery Reinvestment Act, which pumped in $425,000 last fiscal year and about $3 million in fiscal year 2011.

Pell grants from the U.S. Department of Education provides the college a yearly grant of $4 million that finances the studies of about 80 percent of the college's enrollees.

The U.S. Department of Education's College Access Challenge Grant Program also provides NMC $1.5 million a year. This program helps native Pacific Islanders from low-income families to enroll, remain, and succeed in college.

Other programs using federal monies at NMC include the Adult Basic Education, CREES, and the University Centers for Education Excellence, among others.

ACCJC slapped the college anew with a severe sanction of show-cause status after it failed to address all deficiencies identified by a visiting accreditation team. It is required to submit a show-cause report and a closure plan on Oct. 15. The commission will then render a decision on NMC's accreditation at an assembly in January 2014.

Two reports

Hart said she has yet to know the final content of the closure plan, but stressed that the report will be submitted on time, along with other report.

She said it is their plan to aggressively address all team recommendations that deal with standards and is asking everyone to come together and work as a team for NMC.

"Everyone has to put aside political differences-the college, the community, the CNMI. We need to come together and focus on a positive direction to get that accomplished. As we all know, higher education is the vehicle that can help drive the economy of the Commonwealth," she told Saipan Tribune.

[PIR editor’s note: Saipan Tribune earlier reported that NMC's self-reporting provided an inaccurate picture of quality at the college, and the action plan NMC formulated did not follow logically from the self-evaluations it presented to the accreditation team.]

Vacant posts

One of the notable recommendations of the ACCJC deals with the college administrative capacity. Vacant positions such as chief financial officer and some senior level posts were cited as critical to the college's operation.

Hart disclosed that NMC has failed to fill these hard-to-fill positions due to unattractive salary offers. She said NMC will reopen these vacancies with a higher salary package to attract more applicants. She said the target period for this effort is within this semester.

Meantime, Hart refused to comment on ACCJC's recommendation to remove honorary regents from the board.

"That's a board issue and the board has to deal with that appropriately. [But] the report is very strong in what needs to be done to reaffirm accreditation," she said, adding that the "CEO and the board" must adhere to every single recommendation in the report.

'Willing to serve'

Hart's two-year contract is expiring in July this year. The accrediting commission is concerned that the college has yet to decide whether to retain Hart or recruit a new college president.

Hart said she is willing to continue serving the institution.

"I am willing to help this college in everything and anything that it can to get our accreditation. But it's important that everyone-myself and the board-must work as a team," she said.

In the event NMC's accreditation is revoked, the institution has some options it may take, including appealing the decision, applying for accreditation with other commissions other than ACCJC, or total closure.

Hart pointed out, however, that appealing a decision is not always successful. Again, she said the college has no clear closure plans yet.

WICHE membership

Hart also clarified yesterday that the college's accreditation risk has no effect on its membership in the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, or WICHE, which recently accepted the Commonwealth as its newest member.

"NMI will still be a member of WICHE even if [loss of accreditation] happens.because WICHE is put together by governors of the state," she explained, adding that as long as the CNMI pays its membership dues, WICHE will remain committed to the CNMI.

Membership in the organization allows CNMI students to be eligible for reduced tuition rates in 15 member states. For undergraduate programs, the reduced tuition for NMI students is at 150 percent of the resident tuition of that institution.

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

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