By Dr Carlton Mills
The Turks and Caicos Islands Community College (TCICC) was established over two decades ago in order to provide post secondary education to our students and to reduce the burden of astronomical expenditure on overseas scholarships. During this period of time (1994 to 2016), the College has made some significant strides. Some of these include local leadership, introduction of a number of Associate Degrees and more recently, partnering with the Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica (CCCJ) to offer much needed degree programmes such as Bachelors in Hospitality, Tourism, Education and Business.
Dr Carlton Mills received his early education in South Caicos. He pursued studies at Excelsior Community College, University of the West Indies, University of London, University of Bristol and his doctorate in Education at the University of Sheffield.
Dr Mills taught in the school system in the Turks and Caicos Islands for a number of years. He was also Principal of three high schools on the islands and Vice Principal of the Turks and Caicos Islands Community College from September 1997 – February 2007. He was appointed Minister of Education from 2007 – 2009. He is the main editor of The History of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Despite these achievements, the College still faces a number of challenges. One such challenge is its inability to attract a consistent cohort of students to pursue the programme offerings. In order to offset the low student intake this year, the ministry of education flung open the College’s doors and offered full scholarships to the ‘whosoever will’. This initiative on the ministry’s part begs the questions, if everyone is allowed to register, what impact will this have on the quality of education being offered? Has the scholar been taken out of scholarship?
When students are questioned about their lack of interest in attending the college, the common response is that it is a waste of time. Others divulge that many of the lecturers do not attend classes and bemoan the slackness that they (the students and lecturers) are allowed to get away with at the college. References are also made to the long delays students experience when requesting their grades or a transcript to pursue further studies. Whether these allegations are true or not, they must be investigated, as failure to do so can result in a further lack of desire on the part of future potential students.
In addition, the TCICC needs to ensure that the programmes that are being offered are accredited by regional and international accreditation agencies. We should also seek to ensure that when our officials engage in accreditation related discussions, emphasis is placed on articulating advance placement for graduates of the College. This initiative would further help to significantly reduce time and money spent overseas in pursuit of higher education as programmes being offered at the College will gain the desired value and currency to propel our students in their quest for higher education at top universities overseas.
There is also a pressing need to extend the collaborative arrangement of the College beyond the Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica (CCCJ). The College once had a blossoming relationship with the American Association of Community Colleges where officials from the TCICC attended their conferences and were able to network with top Community Colleges in the USA. These relationships need to be reignited as they can aid the College in expanding its programme offerings and provide guidelines in respect to ensuring quality assurance.
Thirdly, the Providenciales Campus needs to be given some urgent infrastructural care in order to reflect a ‘real” college campus. The time has come for the Turks and Caicos government to invest in building a proper campus for the island of Providenciales. This is the most populated, tourism driven island where the demand for skills is overwhelming. The college needs to be able to address the growing needs of its populace. This new campus will provide the much-needed space to adequately accommodate the desired programmes. A proper, on-campus library facility is also essential to support pertinent research. A college cannot operate effectively without a suitable library.
I am furthermore of the view that, by now, the College should have significantly reduced its dependency on the government for financial handouts. After over 20 years of existence, the College should be more financially self-sufficient. This will be made possible with the introduction of the aforementioned accredited programme offerings.
Once programmes at the College are accredited, more students from the local area and regionally would most likely enroll. They would be able to obtain quality education at a reasonable cost. Financial independence will also come about if the College introduces short courses such as Quick Books which is currently in high demand. In addition, there is the need to develop more hands on programmes to meet the growing developmental needs of the TCI. These can be done in collaboration with local business partners.
Such arrangements can give rise to internship programmes, job placement and eventually, full time employment. It will also result in financial stability, prestige, further recognition and acceptance of the College and strengthen relationships between the College, local businesses and the country at large.
There is also the need for ongoing development of faculty. It is of paramount importance for the College to establish a policy that a Masters Degree should be the minimum qualification to obtain employment within the institution. Lecturers need to be highly qualified and encouraged to engage in research and publications. There are areas in this country where research is urgently needed. This will place the College on the cutting edge of knowledge.
In conclusion, for many years, politicians have been suggesting that the College transition into a university. Some have even gone as far as saying that it is their dream for the TCICC to become the University of the TCI especially since this has been the road that the College of the Bahamas has taken. This is not an impossible goal to achieve. This is not an impossible dream.
However, before this can be realized, the above mentioned challenges must first be addressed as a matter of urgency. We can’t just speak the University of the TCI into existence, there is much work to done. We can’t have a university if our college is not respected. After over 20 years of existence, it is imperative that more attention be paid to the TCICC. Politicians are spending far too much time arguing over which party established the College. More energy needs to be put into how we are going to advance the College.
To quote Mr Oliver Mills, “The College should be an institution designed to create knowledge and dispense it thus enriching the lives of the people of the TCI to foster a new level of consciousness while maintaining international prestige and recognition.”
The pressing question is who in the government has the courage to seriously address the issues raised and who has the courage to lay the ground work that will make our Turks and Caicos Islands Community College first choice for post secondary education in the TCI and beyond?