The International College of the Cayman Islands is adopting a series of policies as part of an academic reform designed to make its graduates more globally competitive.
The new academic policies, which were approved by the executive committee of the college’s board of trustees during a Nov. 8 meeting, also include requirements for community service as a way of making its graduates more civically engaged.
April Cummings, chair of the ICCI board of directors, said the board “fully supports a continual focus on improving the academic standards at ICCI. We believe in building on the foundation of the past to create a brighter and more vibrant future.”
The new policies include a requirement for undergraduate students to earn a grade of “C” or better in all general education and major courses to be eligible for graduation. The policies also require them to obtain a minimum 2.5 grade point average for graduation instead of the current 2.0 minimum.
Graduate students will be required to maintain a minimum 3.0 grade point average, and no “C” grade or lower in a course will count toward graduation.
Students will also receive two hours of homework per week for each hour of class they attend in every course in which they are enrolled, a policy consistent with the guidelines of ICCI’s U.S. accrediting body, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.
The homework policy will apply to all students regardless of when they enrolled, while the remaining policies will apply only to students who are admitted after Sept. 1, 2015, college officials said.
All students must complete 20 hours of community service as a condition of graduation and will be required to complete a workshop in the history and culture of Cayman.
At the forefront of ICCI’s reform has been its new president, David Marshall, who took over the role in March. Some of the changes he has championed caused backlash from students, some of whom decided to leave the college as a result.
The college’s board of trustees did not approve all of the measures suggested by Dr. Marshall, including strict class attendance requirements, the requirement for a minimum grade point average to attend overseas seminars, and a dress code.
Attendance and online learning
With regard to attendance, Dr. Marshall had recommended a grade of “F” for students who did not attend at least 85 percent of classes for courses. The board of trustees did not approve that recommendation but left the matter up for additional review on a campus-wide basis.
Dr. Marshall said students were allowed to give feedback at a board meeting in September and they expressed a lot of concern about the attendance policy.
“I think the board wanted a more moderate attendance policy,” he said. “Mine called for a student receiving an “F” if he/she had missed more than 15 percent of the class. I think the board is looking for something in the middle, like an administrative withdrawal from the class due to non-attendance.”
He said about 80 percent of U.S. tertiary education institutions have formal attendance policies.
“ICCI has always had an attendance policy, going back to 1970,” Dr. Marshall said, but he noted that over the years the policy became advisory in nature.
He would still like to see a formal attendance policy, and said he intends to submit another proposal in that regard to the board.
“It sends a message that class attendance is important,” he said, acknowledging that it is inevitable for students, especially older adults with jobs and/or families, to have to miss classes during an 11-week term.
One compromise in the works is the development of an online degree program that would allow students to take courses at home without having to attend classes in person at all.
“This would give our adults more flexibility,” he said, adding that the program envisioned would use “a very stringent online delivery method.”
In order to offer the online degree program, ICCI’s accrediting body would first have to approve the program, a process that would involve an application and then a visit by the accreditor.
“We’re hoping to submit [the application] in January and that would hopefully give us a summer  start,” he said.
Although he has not completely given up on the idea, Dr. Marshall said he withdrew the recommendation for a “smart casual” dress code after student representatives strenuously objected during the consultation process.
“That policy had the most negative and forceful reaction from the students, and it was apparent that we could not build a consensus on the issue at this time,” he said
However, Dr. Marshall said the initiative is not “dead” and that he still hopes to eventually institute a dress code of some sort.
“I firmly believe education is very serious and that it takes place in a sacred place,” he said. “And in all of our sacred places … we dress accordingly.”