April 15, 2009

The Kaselehlie Press

Palikir, Pohnpei - At about the same time as the community college in the Marshall Islands received word that their accreditation had been reinstated after years of struggling, the Progress Report submitted by the College of Micronesia - FSM was rejected by the accreditation board. Many believed that the rejection of the report meant that COM's accreditation was in danger. "We don't believe that our accreditation is in danger in any way," said Joseph Saimon, the College's Accreditation Liaison Officer.

The accrediting body is the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). A letter written to COM President Spensin James by ACCJC President Dr. Barbara A. Beno said that the ACCJC took action to reject a follow up report submitted by the College on October 15, 2008 and gave the College another opportunity to submit a follow-up report by March 15, 2009. The college did resubmit a follow up report by March 15, 2009. A single member of the ACCJC, Floyd Takeuchi will visit Chuuk on April 21 as a follow-up.

Dr. Beno said in response to a Kaselehie Press email enquiry, "The College of Micronesia's report, submitted in Fall 2008 and considered by the Commission at its January 2009 meeting, was rejected by the Commission because the report was poorly written and poorly organized, and did not clearly convey the institution's responses to the recommendations it was given. The College was not placed on a sanction that would lead to termination of accreditation.

"A report is rejected when its character or content are of insufficient quality to permit the Commission to make a sound judgment on the basis of the report. The College has been asked to rewrite the report, taking care to edit it carefully so as to insure it is very clear. The Commission will make a judgment on whether the institution has adequately responded to the recommendations provided by the visiting team when it considers the revised report at its June meeting."

Saimon said that accreditation is vital for the College. "It is the language of quality. Without accreditation much of the College's budget would disappear." He said that only accredited schools are allowed access to US Federal funding such as the Pell grant and other resources. More than 90% of COM's students pay their tuition with money from Pell grants. Tuition supplies more than 60% of the College's budget. Other money received by the College comes from US-FSM Compact of Free Association funds that they wouldn't be able to access without accreditation. Further, without accreditation, coursework done by students at the College would not be accepted at other accredited universities.

"Accreditation is a uniquely United States thing and it insures delivery of quality programs and services at the College," Saimon said. He said that in many other countries, colleges are judged by government entities whereas in the United States, the US Department of Education relies upon the judgment of educators to ensure quality education standards at Universities.

The ACCJC letter said that the report should describe the resolution of each recommendation, analyse the results achieved to date, provide evidence of the results and indicate what additional plans the institution has developed. "The report should also be carefully edited to ensure its accuracy and clarity," the letter said.

Indeed, the report submitted by the College on October 15 had many typographical errors and did not describe resolution of previous ACJCC recommendations but only steps taken toward resolution.

Saimon said that the manner in which they reported was similar to the way they had reported in the past but that things had changed. He said that in 1998 the ACCJC made recommendations for the College to follow. They did so again in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. The US Department of Education requires WASC-ACJCC to allow only two years for institutions they review to completely resolve citations and recommendations. He said that ACJCC had not paid attention to that requirement and the US Department of Education ultimately cited the ACJCC itself requiring them to keep to the two year requirement.

Whereas the College had previously listed the steps they had taken to resolve whatever problems ACJCC had previously identified, ACJCC needed more. They needed to know that the problems had been resolved. Saimon said that the resubmitted report shows that they have been.

One of the issues that needed resolution was a permanent site for the Chuuk campus of the College of Micronesia. The College was to have identified a permanent site by the end of 2008. This was not an ACJCC requirement but a self imposed goal established by COM leadership. Saimon said that one of the functions of the ACJCC is to help Colleges under their jurisdiction to keep to their own goals and the establishment of a permanent site in Chuuk has been an ongoing goal of COM. "The ACJCC didn't impose any requirements regarding the Chuuk Campus. They're simply helping us to keep on track with our own goals," he said.

In 2005, the College completely closed the facility in Weno, Chuuk and renovated all of the buildings on the property leased to them by Roger Mori. In the meantime, the college utilized temporary facilities situated throughout Weno until renovations were completed.

Saimon said that while all of the other states of the FSM had donated property for the use of the College, Chuuk did not. Chuuk's Governor offered the use of the Chuuk High School facility but it was later found that administrative officials within Chuuk State government were at odds about that offer. Further, the College found that some of the land that was being offered was under dispute and that the College would have to assume some outstanding debts. That idea has been completely scrapped.

In the late 90's the College purchased from Redley Killion, a 3 acre plot of land in the Metchitew area of Weno known as Nantaku. More recently the College entertained the possibility of purchasing and utilizing the Chuuk Star Hotel for its uses. Some time during the negotiations for the Chuuk Star Hotel the ACJCC got word from someone in the COM hierarchy that the Nantaku site was unsuitable for building. They mentioned this fact in their letter conveying the rejection of the October 15 follow up report.

COM hired a geological survey firm from Guam to look into the situation. That firm determined that there would be no problem with building on the land the College had bought in the late 90's. The allegation that the land was unusable was untrue.

Currently, the College's head of maintenance is in Chuuk making arrangements for the construction of a road to the Nantaku site. The College has funding in place for the development of the site for their purposes and at least the problem of a permanent facility for the Chuuk Campus of COM seems to have been resolved.

The ACJCC will meet again in June to consider the follow up report of the College. The next comprehensive evaluation of the College will take place during the Spring of 2010.