MARSHALLS COLLEGE FIGHTS FOR ACCREDITATION

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By Giff Johnson

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Nov. 5) – Like midnight cramming for a final examination, the College of the Marshall Islands has worked feverishly the past three months to submit a final report that will determine whether it maintains its United States accreditation, and the $4 million in annual funding that comes with it.

The college’s 59-page report, which includes hundreds of pages of attachments and was filed earlier this week, says the college has met or set in motion action to meet the five major eligibility problems that the U.S. Western Association of Schools and Colleges identified, and has also made major progress on the more than 25 recommendations for improvements.

The college is now gearing up for the arrival of a WASC team that will review progress at the college during its visit next week from Nov. 9-12, said Ira Hecht, the college’s accreditation liaison officer.

Then the college must wait with its fingers figuratively crossed until mid-January to learn if it will remain on probation or lose its accreditation. It is currently in what is known as a "show-cause" status, which is the final stage before accreditation is removed.

Hecht said the college has done everything it could in the final months leading up to the WASC deadline to meet the accreditation conditions.

The two most important of the five eligibility conditions related to lack of financial support from the government and internal accountability.

Last month, the Marshall Islands government made a major, long-term financial commitment to the college. This includes increasing funding this fiscal year from $794,000 to $2.2 million, and approval of an agreement to provide a minimum of $3 million annually for a five-year period from FY2005. In addition, the government forgave various taxes and fees due from the college amounting to more than $1.6 million.

"Both the RMI government and the college administration are committed to putting the college on a sound fiscal footing," the report said.

The college did not undergo an external audit for five years, during which time more than $640,000 was embezzled from the cash-strapped facility. The college reported that five years of audits (1998-2002) were completed during 2002-2003, and the FY 2003 audit was completed last December. The FY2003 audit was unqualified and had only two minor findings, "a vast improvement over previous audit reports," the college said.

The college also listed the conviction of former college controller Louiston Louis and the establishment of strong internal accounting controls as demonstration of its commitment to accountability.

Among other problems, WASC has said the college’s administrative capacity was seriously lacking, with extensive staff turnover and positions vacant for more than a year. But the college said this week that "all senior management positions that were formerly vacant have been filled."

WASC also said the college had failed to maintain accurate information about student grades and fees. The college report said it "has successfully implemented the steps necessary to ensure compliance with this standard," including using a new computer software program known as ‘School Minder.’

November 5, 2004

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