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BC’s Tales of the Pacific | NMC’s historic opportunity

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THE University of the South Pacific has stood as a beacon of island-based education for years.

As reported here back in June, the university, which has a dozen campuses scattered across the islands, is in the middle of a crisis. Leadership is fighting, faculty positions are going unfilled, and students are protesting or staying away.

What does that have to do with NMC? The crisis for the University of the South Pacific is a great opportunity for Northern Marianas College. USP created an identity for itself based on providing college-level education but from an islander’s perspective. The world through our window, you might say. But the internal problems at USP have left a gap that needs to be filled.

Northern Marianas College can put on those shoes, can fill that gap. NMC can position itself as the provider of college-level education from an island perspective. Certain questions come to mind.

How can NMC take a leadership position in regional higher education? We barely have a campus after the typhoon. It is true that the campus on Saipan is still rebuilding. But work continues and financial assistance continues to come from the mainland. While islanders sometimes chafe under the American yoke, one of the advantages of the relationship is access to deep American pockets. The physical campus will return to normal through the course of time, and as enrollment grows and the college gets attention, donors and supporters will come.

University of South Pacific has huge advantages, such as financial support from multiple nations. How can NMC overcome that? It is true that USP has the financial backing of the governments of Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and others, but NMC has the backing of the Northern Marianas and the United States. USP also has much higher operating expenses, since they keep a dozen campuses running, scattered over thousands of square miles of ocean. Their income is greater but so is their outgo. Let us not forget their disadvantages. USP is an institution in crisis. Their professors are leaving for other schools, the administration is racked by internal division and the campuses are centers for student protest and disruption. NMC has none of these things. If USP students are looking for an island-based college education, NMC should extend its hand in friendship and assistance. “Come to NMC, we will give you what you seek, what you can no longer get from your school.” Then watch enrollment grow, along with revenue.

USP has multiple campuses to draw students. NMC cannot do that. NMC has the great equalizer, the internet. Thanks to Covid-19, colleges are conducting nearly all of their classes online. Visits to college campuses today reveal ghost towns, not busy, thriving communities. NMC can take advantage of the current emphasis on web-based learning by extending its reach into the island nations currently served (or not being served) by USP. Many young islanders lack the means to travel for an education. Web-based courses solve that problem. Students in Chuuk, Fiji or Palau can log in to NMC classes and learn just as easily as those on Saipan. Once the Covid crisis is over and campuses return to normal, NMC will have established a strong presence in these new markets. Graduates will encourage their younger brothers and sisters to try NMC. Enrollment, both online and on campus, will increase and so will revenue.

A few weeks ago, my suggestion that the typhoon presented NMC with a great opportunity was met with scorn by some. Together with the crisis at USP, they offer a historic opportunity for Northern Marianas College to grow and thrive. Tap into the island markets where education options are few and move in to fill the vacuum left by a struggling USP. NMC can become the leader in island-based higher education.

 

BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He currently resides on the mainland U.S.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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