By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Aug. 29) - The College of the Marshall Islands is close to losing $4.5 million annually in U.S. education funding and whether or not it maintains this access to this funding after the current school year has everything to do with the level of funding that the Nitijela, the local legislature, provides the local college in the fiscal year 2004 budget, CMI President Wayne Schmidt said in an interview this week.

Loss of U.S. funding would force the Majuro-based college to significantly reduce its programs, if not close its doors, as many observers believe.

The reason Nitijela action to increase the college’s budget is critical is that funding is a major factor in the five eligibility requirements that must be met to maintain accreditation through the U.S. Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

WASC has already put the College of the Marshall Islands on notice that if it doesn’t solve the five requirements by January it will lose its current probationary status by which accreditation is hanging by threads. If accreditation is lost, CMI loses access to U.S. funding, which supplies most of the local college’s budget.

One of the five requirements that must be fixed by January is the problem of heavy administrative staff turnover, which in turn is caused by CMI’s salary structure that is very low when compared to other colleges in the Pacific, Schmidt said. The board of regents has approved a new salary and benefit package for its administrative staff to make CMI competitive — but it will take additional funding from the government to make it happen, as well as to pay debts and resolve other financial issues.

"If we don’t have a competitive salary structure, we don’t meet a core accreditation requirement," Schmidt said. "If we don’t meet it, CMI loses its accreditation. A report on this is due Nov. 1."

"As we told the Nitijela (at last week’s budget hearing), it’s time to fish or cut bait."

The Nitijela budget calls for giving CMI $794,000 — similar to previous years. "It’s not enough," Schmidt said. "We’ve asked for $2 million. If the government doesn’t come through, CMI will not be eligible for accreditation."

If it doesn’t meet the five core requirements by later this year, then WASC will put the college into a "show cause" proceeding that will lead to its accreditation being removed next May, when the current school year ends.

"The College of the Marshall Islands is significantly out of compliance with commission standards and the quality of its education is at serious risk," WASC executive director Dr. Barbara Beno wrote to Schmidt recently in a memo that outlined the numerous steps that WASC says must be taken or CMI risks losing its accreditation.

September 1, 2003

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