Financial aid for ASCC's BEd. program under siege

Cong. Faleomavaega Eni wrote yesterday to Arne Duncan, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education urging the Department to protect financial aid eligibility for American Samoa Community College’s (ASCC) bachelor’s program in elementary education.

 

The congressman issued the press release after Samoa News sent a request for comments on the issue to staff members who attended a meeting last week, where representatives from ASCC and the Northern Marianas College met with USDOE personnel to try to persuade the federal agency not to go ahead with a planned decision to declare the two institutions’ baccalaureate programs ineligible for financial aid, effectively barring them from getting any Title IV funds.

 

Saipan Tribune newspaper published a report over the weekend saying the Northern Marianas College (NMC) had been tipped by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges about a potential “policy decision” by the USDOE to stop the college’s baccalaureate program from receiving federal assistance after a finding that dual accreditation is not in accordance with policy.

 

Both colleges are accredited by both the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges and the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities.

 

“The meeting lasted almost one-and-a-half hours. The USDOE did not hint to an outcome, as they require some time to now go back and review all the facts, which we presented. We were assured this would be a priority for the department, as they know we are starting classes in just a few weeks,” NMC president Dr. Sharon Y. Hart was quoted saying in the Tribune. 

 

According to the Tribune, 14 education officials attended the meeting, with Dr. Kathleen Kolhoff, American Samoa Community College’s vice president for academic and student affairs representing ASCC. 

 

“Additionally and very importantly, we were accompanied to this meeting by some very influential and strong national educational leaders and our U.S. congressional offices. The presence of all of these individuals and their strong verbal support for a positive resolution by the department to both Northern Marianas College and American Samoa Community College was tremendous. And, very importantly, is to have this resolution happen as quickly as possible. The college is prepared to move this up the ladder to the Secretary of the USDOE, as that would be our next step,” Hart told the Saipan Tribune.

 

Supporters included the president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, Dr. Walter Bumphus; the president of Western Interstate Commission of Higher Education, Dr. David Longanecker; Neil Horikoshi, president and executive director, Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund; Krystal Ka’ai, acting executive director, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus; and staffers from Delegates Faleomavega’s and Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s offices.

 

In his Monday, August 5, 2013 letter to Secretary Duncan Faleomavaega explained, “ASCC’s B.Ed. program is modeled after Northern Marianas College’s (NMC) B.Ed. program…  [that] has successfully received Title IV funding under this model for over a decade with federal approval.

 

“However, ED has now determined that dual accreditation should have never been allowed in the first place because Title IV eligibility requires institutions to have only one official accrediting body. ASCC’s B.Ed. program is now in jeopardy of losing federal financial aid due to more than a decade of oversight by the Department…  As you are aware, the original intent of Title IV funding is to help undergraduates of low-income families receive financial aid. Therefore, I urge ED to uphold the original intent of this law and protect critical funding for students who need it most.”

 

Faleomavaega noted in his press release that he had met with Dr. Kolhoff in his Washington D.C. office regarding the meeting and acknowledged his staff had attended the July 30 meeting where the Saipan Tribune noted both congressional offices assured that they would continue to appeal to USDOE on behalf of the group.

 

No reply to Samoa News’ request for a comment from Dr. Kolhoff was received as of press time.

 

UPDATE

 

Saipan Tribune published today (Saipan time) that USDOE cited on Feb. 1, 2013, several statutory provisions—without elaboration or explanation—that ostensibly support the USDOE’s contention that the joint accreditation policy does not comply with federal legal requirements.

Three statutory provisions were: 

1). Section 101 and 102 of the HEA where it indicated “the institution must be accredited by a national recognized accrediting agency; 

2). Section 496(i) of the HEA “says that a dually accredited institution must explain to us why it is dually accredited and pick which accreditation shall be used in determining eligibility”; and

3). Section 496(n)(3) of the HEA “says that we must determine scope when we grant accreditation.”

But according to WASC officials Dr. Barbara Beno and Ralph Wolff, Sections 101 and 102 of the HEA permits an institution to be accredited by more than one accrediting agency, contrary to USDOE’s position.

“The fact that HEA sections 101 and 102 require that ‘a’ nationally recognized agency accredits an institution of higher education does not preclude an institution from being accredited by more than one agency,” the two stated in their joint letter to USDOE in February.

 

The WASC said in the Saipan Tribune pursuant to ACCJC and ACSCU’s joint accreditation policy, FIDM, NMC, and American Samoa Community College submitted substantive change requests to ACCJC for the purposes of requesting the addition of single baccalaureate degree programs at their campuses.

 

Also according to WASC officials, USDOE—in its correspondence about the policy decision—provided no basis to support its position that the joint accreditation policy does not comply with federal law, the Saipan Tribune said in its report.

 

 

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