52 students have left since new president took over
There will be no compromise on reforms at the International College of the Cayman Islands despite protests from students, says the school’s president, David Marshall.
Dr. Marshall said students were “on the warpath” over recent changes, including a dress code and strict new attendance and homework requirements.
But he said the changes are about “academic integrity” and insists there is no room for flexibility on many of the new rules.
“The message we are trying to send is that education is very serious. It is a sacrifice, not an entitlement. You don’t just show up and get a degree,” he said.
Dr. Marshall said 52 students have left the college since he took over in March, either because they did not like him personally or they were unwilling or unable to comply with various new policies, including attendance expectations, learning contracts and mandatory tutoring requirements for scholarship students failing to make the grade. The departures have been partially offset by new arrivals. The school currently has 271 students, 22 fewer than at the same time last year.
“There is going to be some further attrition of existing students. I expect that to be the case,” said Dr. Marshall. “But either we are going to do the right thing or there is no need for us to be open.”
Several students are reportedly upset, particularly about the dress code and community service requirements.
There is also concern about a lack of flexibility on attendance and homework for a college that has traditionally helped provide a route to career advancement for busy working people.
The student body held a meeting on campus last week and are preparing a letter to send to the ICCI board with their comments.
A feedback blog set up by Dr. Marshall contains a mix of positive comments alongside some voices of complaint, though the president says the response on campus has been much more forceful against the changes.
One student on the blog writes, “Really, uniform? Am I correctly interpreting this email? Are we in high school?! We are working class individuals.”
The student goes on to suggest that the community service requirement is impractical and questions the wisdom of making a module in Caymanian history a requirement for graduation.
“We are trying to move forward, not backward, life is already hard as it is, why are you making it harder?”
Another student calls for more leniency on attendance, pointing out that many of the students work six or even seven days a week.
“A policy allowing me to only have three absences or risk a failure is, I believe, very inconsiderate as there are students who attend school, are parents, and possess a full time job.”
Dr. Marshall said he understood the resistance to what he described as a “tornado of change” at the college. But he said many of the changes are about compliance with the international accrediting body.
He said students would be assigned two hours homework for every hour in class and would be tested to ensure they had completed the necessary work. Family or work commitments will no longer be considered a legitimate excuse, he said.
“If students are unable or unwilling to meet those homework standards, we are going to dismiss them from the college,” he said. “If you are working 40 hours every week, you have a family, you are coming to class, when are you going to get the time to do the work?
“We can’t compromise on that out of sympathy. It is an academic integrity issue.”
He said students who don’t have room in their schedules would have to either cut down the number of classes they were taking or quit the school and come back when they do have time.
“We have got to be unapologetic about standards. On an island where the business community is complaining about the inability of people to meet standards in the workplace, we have to do our part. If we go down to 20 of the best students – that is what it is,” Dr. Marshall said.
The college had previously been given 22 “citations” from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools for failing to ensure compliance with a range of requirements, he said. The new policies dealt with the concerns of the accrediting body and ensured the college was granted accreditation for the next four years, he added.
Dr. Marshall said there could be room for some compromise on the dress code but the broad requirement will stay, despite opposition from students. He said visiting business professionals were often surprised that the presentation of the students did not sync with their idea of a school that specializes in business.
“I tell the students, you are here for career preparation and career advancement,” he said. “On any given day, an employer should be able to walk into the class and a student should be ready to do an interview.
“You don’t come to school wearing flip-flops, pajamas and halter tops and baseball caps – this is a business environment.
“We are enforcing the highest possible academic standards; we want students looking and behaving like they are ready to set foot in the business world.”
Dr. Marshall said the newer students were largely on board with the changes. He said resistance was coming from existing students who felt the goalposts had been moved.
“I think some people feel like they were playing by one set of rules on Monday and they came in Wednesday and the rules are different.”
He added that there was a broader issue of “entitlement,” with some students feeling they should get a degree simply for showing up.
“The rigor of the course has increased so significantly that you are going to fail if you don’t put the hours in.
“One thing we are being firm about is we are not doing charity. Every grade has to be earned. We can’t pander or cater to or fall prey to entitlement. It is the wrong way to go.”
- 85 percent attendance requirement
- Two hours homework requirement for every hour in class
- Smart-casual dress code for students
- All students to complete 20 hours of community service before graduation
- All students to take Cayman history and culture workshop and pass exam
- Students to maintain minimum GPA of 2.5 or face probation/intervention