The issue of obtaining accreditation for the Northern Marianas Technical Institute was the focus of an NMTI board meeting last Wednesday, particularly in how it will help the institution apply for federal funding.
In a meeting at the NMTI office in Lower Base that was also attended by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, it was learned that NMTI had also submitted a proposal to the NMTI board of trustees, in collaboration with the Northern Marianas College, to obtain a grant of $1.3 million for an apprenticeship program. These are occupational training programs that combine on-the-job work experience along with technical or classroom study.
Agnes McPhetres, the chief executive officer of NMTI, said that since NMTI is not an accredited institution, they aren’t eligible for particular federal grants. Partnering up with NMC will increase their chances of getting a grant of $1.3 million.
“It will be a submission of NMC, but we’re just part of that program,” she said. “Since we’re not accredited, it is really essential that we pursue this accreditation so that we can directly apply instead of piggybacking on [NMC].”
McPhetres acknowledges that applying for the grant requires many different steps and one of the steps that NMTI has been taking is working with their key staff to come up with all the policies that govern an institution that wants to be accredited.
Palacios, however, urged NMTI not to be too caught up with accreditation efforts. He said the last thing they want to do is for NMTI to be hung up on getting accreditation that they forget “the real core of what NMTI is all about.”
“Accreditation is just a program that will open up things for you,” said Palacios, and urged NMTI not to be stuck on just working on accreditation but also give equal weight to improving the program itself, “maybe ensure that while we operate this and while we’re looking toward accreditation, we need to also work with the efficiency of the program itself.”
He added that he’s seen many individuals who have succeeded through NMTI’s program in the last five to eight years even if it isn’t accredited.
“Although NMTI is not accredited, these folks have earned very meaningful employment in the private and public sector,” said Palacios. “It’s really the efficiency of the program itself that [we] really need to focus on.”
Palacios stated that his oldest son graduated two years after enrolling in the trade institute, thanks in large part to the program itself and how it paid attention to the training that students received and how well organized it was.
“We need the resources and accessing federal programs is something that we should take seriously as a great opportunity,” said Palacios. “But, at the end of the day, we’ve got to make sure that we do this in a balance, and look at the features and the needs of these students.”
Torres, on the other hand, appears to be getting behind the idea of merging NMTI with NMC. “During the [CNMI Fiscal Response Summit], it was suggested that NMTI should look into merging with NMC. The whole purpose of NMTI needs to be re-evaluated,” he said.
A bill did propose transforming NMTI into a government agency but Torres vetoed that because he didn’t want it under the Executive Branch. It came around again, and they all agreed that the government needs this now.
“I think that there’s got to be a continuation on some courses, and I am 100% supportive of mechanics,” said Torres.
As for the other courses, Torres thinks that the construction trades are a want, not a need. At the same time, because he doesn’t see the tourism industry growing next year, Torres said, “I love the culinary [program]. They’ve done a great job, but is that something the island needs for the next two years?”
Torres believes it would be best for NMTI to merge with NMC. If that is possible, then Torres, Palacios, McPhetres, along with NMTI’s board of trustees will need to evaluate what is best for the instructors and students, as well as the goal of NMTI, he added.
McPhetres concedes that it will be complicated but it can be done. “It’s complicated, but only educators that see how to merge [this thing] can do it.” she said.
She added that it will also be better to have one board that will look at the whole educational system as a whole, so that “the Public School System won’t say this is mine and NMC will not say this is mine.”
“Look at our system, it’s a broken educational system,” said McPhetres. “We have to have one educational system.”