Results for CXC’s May / June 2013 CSEC exams will be released sometime next month and with that, students will be making their final decisions about college. That decision however is not as cut-and-dry as it used to be.
A few years ago, the Clifton Dupigny Community College (now Dominica State College) was the only realistic option for post-secondary education available to new high school graduates. Today the situation has changed. In addition to a plethora of distance /online options and foreign colleges, Lead Institute, UWI Open Campus and the Business Training Center all offer programmes targeting high school graduates. Deciding which of these institutions is best for you can no doubt be a daunting task.
What then are the key factors a student should consider when deciding on which school to attend?
Accreditation and cost should obviously be the foremost considerations driving your decision. A rose by any other name might still be a rose, but not all Associate Degrees are the same. Some are accredited and internationally recognized while others are not. Spending $7,000.00 for an Associate Degree that is not fully accredited and barely recognized beyond the walls of the granting institution is a wasted investment. It’s like paying a whole lot of cash for gold-plated jewelry and then turning around and trying to sell it; nobody wants it. In other words, your Associate Degree should be in high demand. It should give you a strategic advantage, landing you interviews for the most competitive jobs, scholarships and universities around the world. In this regard, a regional/international qualification, like the Caribbean Examination Council’s (CXC) CAPE Associate Degree (that is fully accredited and internationally recognized) should be preferred above any programme that is not accredited or cannot do as much.
Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a handful of accredited programmes, you then compare their tuition and fees. Quality education is expensive but it should not have to cost you a fortune to do an Associate Degree. Tuition for Associate Degrees currently being offered to Dominican students range anywhere between $7,000.00 to $25,000.00. Be careful! More expensive does not necessarily mean better quality. However, the quality of programmes offered by regional and international examination bodies tend to be superior to state or national programmes. Using a core of expert panels, their syllabi and exams are developed according to rigorous quality standards. Besides, public education, like state-run corporations, tends to be top heavy and notoriously inefficient.
Quite apart from shopping around for the best value, you may also want to consider the quality of instructions. Are the tutors qualified? Do they have relevant experience in the particular disciplines they teach? To have a degree is one thing but to be able to teach and transfer knowledge is quite another. Excellent teachers are primarily concerned with the success of their students. They show up to classes and do whatever is necessary to ensure their students maximize the learning experience.
Physical facilities are also important. A good school, at the bare minimum, should have some registered permanent domicile where they can be contacted. The lack thereof, often suggest instability. Some of the distance/online programmes offered to our students, for which they pay hefty sums of money, operate mobile structures and organizations. If business does not work out as planned, they simply close shop leaving behind no means of tracking them or recovering your investments. Facilities should also be adequate to deliver the programmes offered. However, don’t overrate the importance of the physical plant which is the hardware of the education system. The hardware could be state-of-the-art but if the software (curriculum, qualification, accreditation, teachers etc) is crappy, then all you’re left with is a crappy / worthless education. Garbage in is still garbage out.
Ultimately, if you really want to know whether a school or programme is right for you or delivers on its promise, ask its students, both past and current. Students are more likely than school officials, to offer an honest evaluation of a programme. College presidents, deans and admission officers have their jobs to protect; they just regurgitate the official school mantra. Students however will tell you what you need to know if you ask the right questions. You want to find out about their satisfaction levels. Would they have chosen to attend another school if they had a choice? Do they mind recommending their school to a friend? Also ask about the attrition rate. High attrition rates, indicates high levels of dissatisfaction with the programme quality and school.