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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Jan. 2) — United States funding that accounts for more than 50 percent of the College of the Marshall Islands operating budget will be at stake when the Western Association of Schools and Colleges meets in California in two weeks to decide whether the Majuro-based college will maintain its U.S. accreditation.

The college receives US$3.4 million of its US$6 million budget from U.S. federal sources — funding that depends on the college being accredited.

But for the past 18 months, the College of the Marshall Islands has been on "show cause" status, the final step before losing accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. More than 600 students, nearly all of whom use U.S. funding for tuition, could be affected by a loss of accreditation.

"The Western Association of Schools and College’s team made it crystal clear that the College of the Marshall Islands’ ticket to ride is facilities," recently appointed college President Wilson Hess said Thursday.

A planned new campus with a US$21 million price tag is what the college is counting on to keep it accredited. Marshall Islands President Kessai Note and other government leaders have expressed strong support for new campus facilities.

"CMI’s current facilities are far from the standard (of WASC-accredited colleges)," Hess said. "Timely implementation of construction plans is key.

The time for planning is over; it’s time to get the bulldozers out and get to work."

In November, WASC review team leader Dr. Robert Harris said in Majuro that the local college had solved virtually all of its financial, academic and student service problems that were on a "must-do" list for college accreditation. But Harris said that CMI is not in compliance with accreditation standards for its facilities and this will be a major issue for the mid-January accreditation review.

WASC officials said earlier this year that CMI’s campus is not only below the standard of accredited colleges in the United States, but also below the standard of colleges that WASC currently accredits in the Pacific islands, including colleges in American Samoa, Palau, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Hess said that while the college’s facilities master plan is essentially complete, waiting only on some final cost/budget information and the commitment of the Marshall Islands government for funding, the college is moving ahead on two fronts:

o CMI will soon begin demolition of a dilapidated building that dates to the early 1960s and will construct a new student dormitory on the site.

Tearing down an "unhealthful" building and putting up a new facility kills two birds with one stone for accreditation purposes, Hess said.

CMI plans to start the construction of its new "learning center" — a facility that will be the centerpiece of the new campus — in 2006. "We won’t be able to complete it in 2006, but we’ll start it," Hess said.

He said it will take four-to-five years to build a real college campus to replace the hodge-podge of old and deteriorating buildings now comprising most of the campus area.

A draft agreement between CMI and the Marshall Islands government for long-term government funding of new facilities is now under discussion. Hess and CMI officials hope that it will be signed prior to the January 11-13 WASC accreditation meetings in California.

Hess said that the anticipated cost of the five-year facilities construction plan is more than US$21 million.

Hess added that the government has made a commitment to supporting CMI’s campus improvements.

That commitment is essential for the local college to maintain its accreditation when WASC meets in January to decide CMI’s fate, Hess said.

"Our goal is to step back from the brink (of losing accreditation)," he said.

"If we all hang together, we will do it (maintain accreditation)," Hess said.

January 2, 2006

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