Barely two weeks after regaining its accreditation with the Accrediting Commission on Junior Community College, the Northern Marianas College is already looking at shifting its accreditation to the Senior College and University Commission after the Board of Regents approved Friday the change as endorsed by its committee.
Both the ACCJC and the Senior College and University Commission are components of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, or WASC. Since 2001, NMC has been both accredited by these two commission bodies for its two-year programs and for its only baccalaureate degree.
NMC president Dr. Sharon Y. Hart disclosed Friday that the “major shift” is primarily due to the institution’s plan to offer another four-year baccalaureate degree in business starting fall 2014 semester.
Under ACCJC policy, member institution could only offer one four-year degree program; in the case of NMC, its School of Education.
Under the senior commission, Hart said the college could offer as many four-year degree courses it wishes while maintaining its associate degree programs.
Last Friday, the board’s fiscal committee headed by William Torres endorsed to the full board NMC’s application with the senior commission, which is due on March 1. He described the move as fundamental to NMC’s goal to expand its course offerings.
Torres is convinced that the college is adequately prepared to move up and would likely be accepted by the higher commission.
Torres said the shift to the senior commission will not in any way disrupt the current program offerings of the college and, in fact, would save the institution some money, alluding to the expenses incurred by NMC when it brings both the ACCJC and senior commission members for teams visits.
Additionally, Torres said that moving to the senior commission would help NMC maintain the federal financial assistance its students receive such as Pell grants. It will be recalled that USDOE ruled last year that NMC is ineligible to get Pell grants because of the institution’s dual accreditation. The USDOE later reconsidered and gave NMC a 90-day reprieve after the “substantive change” adopted by the college.
In an interview with Hart Friday, she disclosed that NMC has already informed the ACCJC about the plan and that it understands the direction NMC wants to pursue.
“Our commitment to continuous quality improvement will not change if the college’s accreditation transitions to WASC Senior,” said Hart.
According to the president, the senior commission implements four standards that NMC is more comfortable working with.
“This is the best time to do this. We’re on top of our game right now and we have documentations that are fresh that would help us in developing our self-study [for the senior commission],” Hart said, adding that NMC cannot add more four-year degree programs if it continues to stay with ACCJC.
If not done this time, Hart said, NMC will need to wait for two more years to gather new data before it can petition to apply for the senior commission.
Hart disclosed NMC’s plan to endorse to the board next month the four-year business degree program, to be implemented in the fall semester.
Saipan Tribune learned that the senior commission provides member institutions an initial accreditation of 6 to 7 years and 10 years for affirmation.
‘Why the rush?’
Prior to voting Friday, regent Juan T. Lizama questioned the timing of the proposal.
“We just completed building a beautiful house, which is good for six years. Why not enjoy this new house at the moment?” Lizama asked colleagues.
He reminded peers about the possible legal ramification of the plan to the enabling statute that governs the college as well as its impact on the institution’s existing programs like remedial programs and others.
NMC board legal counsel Jesus Borja assured, however, that “I look at it in the context raised and I don’t see any contravention of the statute.”