The new president of the International College of the Cayman Islands has an unusual ambition for his first few years at the helm – fewer graduates.
Former Chicago educator David Marshall says he wants to raise the level of the college’s degree programs to the point where its qualifications are a guarantee of excellence that the business community can take to the bank.
He plans to seek input from industry leaders to redesign courses to better meet their requirements and introduce higher standards that would likely lead to fewer students being accepted for degree programs and fewer graduates.
“An employer should be confident that when they see a resume from one of our graduates that we’ve already done the work,” he said.
“A qualification from this institution should be a guarantee to the employer that this person has the necessary skills to do the job. If that means we have to go from 61 graduates a year to 15, then that’s what we’ll do.”
For a college dependent on tuition fees, that would mean a loss in vital funding. But Mr. Marshall insists it is a step the college has to take, and he is prepared to share the pain by taking a pay cut himself, if necessary.
He said the college’s 300-plus students, whom he is meeting in a series of one-on-one interviews, have plenty of natural talent and enthusiasm, as well as a strong work ethic that has led many of them to further their education while working full-time. But he said the college would be letting them and the community down if it allowed them to graduate too easily. He acknowledged that business leaders, including “friends of the college,” had indicated they regularly received resumes from ICCI graduates that were a “bit off,” often poorly written, with spelling and grammar not up to scratch.
“Enough people have said that for me to believe it is a real problem. Even if it is only a perception, it is a problem,” he said. “The fault is not with the student; we have to take responsibility for it.”
He said the college could work with the Department of Education and the University College of the Cayman Islands to introduce a “bridge to college” program to ensure that the institution maintains its open-door ethos without accepting students into programs for which they are not ready.
“If we accept a student into a degree program, we are the ones that are saying they have the competency to get through it. It is immoral to admit students if they don’t have the skills to do it,” he added.
Where possible, he said, he will introduce industry-accepted external testing to ensure graduates leave ICCI ready for the world of work.
“If they have not met the criteria, they are not going to graduate. It could take 10 years to get a four-year degree, but we are not going to let them out. If we let them out the door without the skills to be successful, we have let them down.
“I don’t care if we go down to 20 students from 300 to meet that standard,” he said, “but I promise you when those students do graduate, they will be comparable with the best on the planet.”
He accepted that such reforms would likely face opposition, including from students and alumni. But, he said, for ICCI to remain relevant, they have to demonstrate that a qualification from the college is worth something tangible.
“There’s a disconnect between what we are teaching, in academia, and what industry and business needs. The degree only has value if the employer says it has value,” Mr. Marshall said. “This is about owning up our own responsibilities and saying we want to do better. We have to step up to the plate and match the ambitions and expectations of our students.”
“We have an ethical and moral obligation to give them the education they need to be successful,” he added.
The college will record and publish statistics on how many of its students get relevant jobs on graduation and how many already in work get promotions, as well as publishing its budget, including his own salary, online, Mr. Marshall said. He hopes to enlist the wider community in reforming the college’s offering and also spark a national debate about education in the Cayman Islands.
“The Cayman Islands is a world-class financial center. You have five or six world-class hotels, restaurants that are up there with the best on the planet. Can people say the same thing about the education system from pre-K all the way on up?
“I hear a national conversation about the cruise industry, about the dump, about the turtle farm. I don’t hear a national conversation about education.”