Leaders and representatives from the private and public sectors took part in yesterday's historic Northern Marianas College Strategic Planning Summit held at Pacific Islands Club Saipan.
Facilitated by Dennis Jones from the National Center for Higher Education Management System, the five-hour event centered on NMC's role in the future of the Commonwealth, how its desired progress became elusive, and potential approaches that would bring “change” to the community college.
In his presentation, Jones identified areas and aspects that continue to pose as a challenge to the only institution of higher education on island. Among these challenges is the need to educate U.S. citizens to fill jobs being vacated by foreign workers and providing trainings for high skilled jobs in utilities and management positions in healthcare. NMC is also being challenged to increase the overall education attainment levels of the workforce as well as create private sector jobs.
Among the opportunities it needs to develop, according to the expert, is in business, especially small business and entrepreneurship courses. It has also great potential in agriculture and aquaculture along with the healthcare needs. NMC, it was revealed, must also develop the workforce in computer applications, mechanics, and customer service.
According to Jones, the CNMI can't rely on changes in the “exemption policy” to save itself at this point, alluding to the proposed five-year extension of nonresidents' stay in the Commonwealth. He said the CNMI and all its stakeholders have to think much more seriously about how it wants to educate its children.
Despite commentaries which mostly tackled the “mistakes” committed in the past, Jones described yesterday's event as a good conversation among stakeholders.
“I think they recognized the set of issues. But the real question here today is: what does NMC do in CNMI?”
Jones is expecting that after the summit, “CNMI folks will begin talking, get some sense of how they see reality, and set a stage for a conversation within the college.”
During Jones' presentation, he highlighted data he described needs the CNMI's attention to better its only community college. “Gaps” were presented in issues such as minimum wage, education attainment of the population, unemployment rate, percentage of students from public schools, the enrollment trend at NMC, and many others.
Strong liberal arts program
For former NMC Board of Regents and now Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. CEO Juan N. Babauta, “debates” seem ongoing on what the real mission of the college is. But he strongly believes that “the college's mission is to provide a strong liberal arts program on fundamentals-reading, writing, math, and science-for students to become analytical and rationale thinkers.”
Board of Education member Galvin Deleon Guerrero, meantime, said that NMC must be wary of pursuing an educational agenda that is purely pragmatic, specialized, and utilitarian. “I do believe that there's a very great need of short-term certificate programs [at NMC].”
Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan, Ed.D, said data received yesterday from the expert would be helpful in the Public School System's efforts in establishing partnerships and collaborations with the private and public sectors.
She assured yesterday that PSS, along with the Board of Education, can help the CNMI address the issue by probably implementing some changes in the junior and high school levels where it can introduce career technology education academy for the early preparation of students to college and career after high school.
Sablan, however, pointed out that there are also factors that are beyond PSS' control such as the kind of nurturing and guidance received by students from their parents.
Department of Commerce Secretary Sixto Igisomar, meanwhile, said it is important for parents to give their children some “vision” for them to grow, by emphasizing the importance of seeking a college education whatever family or economic background they may have. He described the “culture as so close-knit” that “discourages” many children from going off to college.
Meantime, David Sablan Jr. of Tan Holdings, emphasized the need to encourage students to go to college at NMC to prevent a brain drain on the island. He cited the case of numerous government scholars who seek education abroad but are not returning to work and help the CNMI.