Compared to most states in the U.S. mainland, the CNMI ranks low in having an educated community of citizens, according to a ranking official of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education yesterday.
Dr. David Longanecker warned that if this trend continues, the islands will experience an extreme shortage of professionals in the next two years, sapping the CNMI of its economic vitality and global competitiveness.
Nonresident workers, who comprise the majority of the CNMI’s workforce, are expected to leave the Commonwealth by the end of 2014, when the transition period to federal immigration ends.
Longanecker is on island for the Micronesian Executive Summit, along with Dennis Mohatt, WICHE vice president for behavioral health. The two are slated to make presentations about the organization and how member-institutions in the Pacific will benefit from WICHE’s programs and initiatives.
“[The] CNMI, compared to most of the U.S. states, ranks relatively low [in terms of having an educated community]. Most of the people here with baccalaureate degrees came from other places and they’re not CNMI citizens. You’ll have to find a way to replace [the foreign workers]…and that’s a huge challenge,” Longanecker said during yesterday’s news briefing at the Northern Marianas College.
The CNMI became a WICHE member in November last year, allowing CNMI students pursuing college in WICHE member-institutions to avail of discounted rates for their tuition and fees. This is in addition to accessing various online courses and programs.
Because the CNMI’s membership is relatively new, Longanecker could not immediately specify the number of CNMI students currently availing of WICHE programs. Member-institutions’ reports, he said, are not due until next year.
WICHE is a regional organization that works to improve access to higher education. At present it has 16 member institutions including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and the CNMI—the newest participant and the first from the Pacific Islands.
Each year, the CNMI must pay a membership fee of $131,000 for its students to avail of WICHE programs and benefits. This annual due is being shouldered solely by the CNMI until other Pacific areas join in the initiative.
Longanecker described the discounted rates given to NMI students as “advantage tuition.” For graduate students, for instance, WICHE’s Western Regional Graduate Program enables students to enroll in more than 250 graduate programs and pay the resident tuition rate instead of the nonresident rate that an out-of-state student would normally pay.
“As we look at the CNMI, with its immigration issues, you’ve got to do something because…the CNMI has a very limited resources, so I believe this partnership will give this island the capacity [to build its own professional workforce],” said Longanecker.
While on island, Longanecker said it is their objective to convince and entice other Pacific leaders to come together to what he called a “win-win” program for everyone. His team is set to meet with various Micronesian chief executives this week.
According to NMC president Dr. Sharon Y. Hart, WICHE membership gives CNMI students “endless educational opportunities” for them to grow and succeed.
“NMC cannot be everything to everyone. We don’t have the resources to really expand and open more doors for our students,” she said, adding that participation in WICHE programs will greatly help develop much-needed professionals for the CNMI.
She cited as example the extreme lack of dental hygienists in the Commonwealth, a career that can easily be developed with the help of WICHE programs.
“We’re trying to target markets where the CNMI has a shortfall,” she said.
Hart said the CNMI government must be concerned about the potential loss of its own workforce. She believes that islands and countries with the most educated people have the best economies.
Meanwhile, despite the financial constraints of the local government, Lt. Gov. Jude Hofschneider reiterated yesterday the administration’s commitment to continue and strengthen the CNMI’s partnership with WICHE.
“It’s a challenge [to meet the dues] but nevertheless, the CNMI commitment is there,” he said, adding that Inos administration will closely work with NMC to sustain this partnership with WICHE.
WICHE, according to Longanecker, has been around for 60 years and presently has 32,000 undergraduate students in its programs. Its graduate students attend about 220 institutions in the West, among others.