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College of Marshall Islands aglow with full accreditation

By Giff Johnson MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Business Journal, Aug. 16, 2010) – What a difference five years makes. In 2005, the College of the Marshall Islands was in a tailspin with loss of U.S. accreditation and closure likely. Today, as four of its five Pacific neighbor colleges face sanctions from the California-based Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the Majuro community college is nearing completion of a US$25 million campus overhaul, launching its first four-year degree program and moving seriously into vocational training.

Last month, WASC announced CMI’s accreditation was good through 2016 - the longest term possible - and the college wouldn’t get a visit for five years. Meanwhile, Northern Marianas College was placed on "show cause" status, the last step before a college loses its accreditation - one that CMI survived. Both the College of Micronesia in Pohnpei and Palau Community College were placed on "warning" status, while American Samoa Community College moved up a notch from "probation" to "warning."

In late July, CMI broke ground for its US$1.8 million; two-story administration building that is being built by local contractor Anil Development with U.S. Compact funding.

The restoration of full accreditation has stabilized the college, allowing it to begin a significant academic expansion in response to needs in the Marshall Islands.

"The significance of the ‘acceptance’ is reaffirmation that CMI continues to meet the standards for accreditation of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of WASC," said CMI President Kenneth Woodbury Jr., who took over last year from President Wilson Hess, who spent nearly five years guiding CMI out of the swamp of WASC sanctions and back to academic respectability.

"CMI has emerged as a leader in delivering higher education in the Pacific and with the continued support of the Marshall Islands government, we will strengthen our role in improving the economy, job development, applied research in agriculture, fishing and aquaculture and providing a world-class education for our citizens."

Getting the relationship right with government - a major funder for each community college in the region - is essential to success, Woodbury commented. During CMI’s accreditation troubles of the mid-2000s, two key issues were the independence of the college’s board of regents and the government’s commitment to support its national institution of higher learning. The government responded by removing elected officials from the CMI board, giving it the independence required for accreditation, and committing to an annual US$5 million investment through a five-year agreement.

"It is unfortunate for the Pacific region that four of our colleges were sanctioned," said Woodbury. "It is to the credit of president emeritus Wilson Hess, our strong and committed faculty and the entire support staff of CMI that we received accreditation and continue to earn that distinction."

Woodbury said that most of the "cited reasons for sanctions at the four colleges rest with lack of government financial support coupled with government interference in the governance and budgets of the institutions. We are fortunate to have worked out a partnership with the Marshall Islands government that is to our mutual benefit and the citizens of the Marshall Islands. Agreements depend on the goodwill and trust of the participants. We hope to continue to earn the government’s trust in CMI."

To respond to emerging needs in the country, CMI is submitting two "substantive change" proposals to WASC for approval of new programs it expects to roll out in the near future. The substantive changes were not possible until CMI regained full accreditation last year. CMI is now planning to:

There are still many needs, including a new library - which was on track for being funded by Japan in 2008 when a political leadership change in the Marshall Islands led to it being removed from the government’s priority construction list.

It’s a top priority for Woodbury, who is looking for the money to build it. "U.S. Compact funding for our new campus did not include construction of a new library," he said. "To date we have drawn up plans for a new library with cost estimates and have applied for funding for parts of the new library."

In the meantime, the local college continues to push into new territory with its accreditation issues finally settled.

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