The Caribbean University was first born as a non-for-profit, non-sectarian and co-educational college in 1969, in the city of Bahamón, inspired on the principles of accessibility, comprehensibility and adaptability for all its students. Today, it is a major university offering a complete range of secondary degrees, from technical and associated to bachelors’, masters and PhDs. It is authorized by the Council for Higher Education of Puerto Rico and the Middle State Commission in Higher Education (MSCHE) and its civil and electric engineering programs recognized by the Accreditation Board of Engineers and Technology (ABET), which is a particularly important achievement because it is what allows students to carry out these professions in the United States.
Apart from its Short Careers Program, which offers students technical degrees in Cosmetology, Digital Marketing and Business Administration, the University offers courses in agronomy and Greenhouse Management, as well as professional certificates in Early Childhood, Speech and Hearing Loss and Autism. In fact, the whole range of its health programs, together with the masters’ degree in Nursing with specialization in Neonatal Pediatrics and Gerontology, has gained tremendous momentum due to the continuous demand in the US for bilingual nurses to meet the needs of a growing Hispanic population. But the University also offers the possibility of pursuing academic careers, such as its masters’ degree in Museology and History of Art, a one-of-a-kind program in the country, as students are able to take advantage of the University’s own Museum. “Most students in this program have gone on to find opportunities in the field in Argentina, the Caribbean and even London and Spain”, explains Dr. Ana Cucurella, president of the Caribbean University.
But the University has not crowned so many achievements without a due degree of struggle. Despite being among the top 30 countries in the world that invest the most in education, Puerto Rico is still behind in PISA test results, and schools keep closing down due to a decreasing population and economic recession. “Since 2006”, explains Dr. Cucurella, “the recession forced us to rethink the model for our Higher Education Institutions and to adapt to a changing and challenging reality”. In fact, over the past decade the island has seen a 40% decrease in students in private and public high schools, a private higher education market that lost 28.000 students between 2011 and 2017, and a rate of migration to the US mainland of professionals that averages at 80,000 per year.
In the face of such difficult challenges, the University underwent the arduous task of rethinking itself not only in the context of the island, but of embracing its role in a global stage in which economy, knowledge and communication networks largely transcend both national and cultural borders. Accordingly, their Strategic Plan since 1016 was primarily aimed at achieving growth, economic sustainability and diversification by allocating efforts and resources on the competencies which differentiate it from other institutions and make it competitive in the global market. “We began by creating unique programs based on local demand, improving teaching quality and expanding the reach of our technical and vocational centers, and creating strategic alliances, both nationally and internationally, in order to promote employment opportunities, access to technology and infrastructure and practical experience in accordance to the demands of the labor market”, explains Dr. Cucurella.
Among their major achievements was indeed the creation of the Caribbean Online platform, through which the University began to offer hybrid classroom/web-based programs which opened the door for thousands of students in the US to pursue higher studies. By offering fully bilingual programs, the platform also attracted many non-Spanish speakers interested in learning the language in order to broaden the reach of their professions. “Different sectors of the US Department of Education have in fact become interested in our Criminal Justice, Nursing, Museology and Education graduate programs, as demand grows for bilingual teachers and care professionals”, explains Dr. Cucurella. “That is why we are currently developing a platform for offering Hybrid and “Weekend College” masters’ and PhD degrees to Hispanics in Florida who could benefit greatly from highly competitive and yet cheaper programs”.
Another key component of the Strategic Plan is the University’s ability to collaborate with professional institutions in different fields. Through an alliance with the Premium Health Group Clinic, for example, the University inaugurated only a few weeks ago in its Bayamón campus a series health clinics that incorporate a variety of medical services which are not only available to students, staff and the surrounding community in need of medical care, but also to students of Nursing and other health-related fields to carry out internships. The program offers complete health services in general
“We firmly believe there is no economic development without a university degree”
medicine, cardiology, optometry, gynecology and pediatrics, and it functions as the last step on the professional ladder offered by the University designed so that students can pursue academic advancement all the way from a technical degree to a graduate degree with professional experience. A similar project involves the government, educational institutions and the community in order to provide strategic opportunities of advancement to students, teachers and administrators all around the country, and the Speech Therapy Undergraduate Degree has developed an internship center known as the Center for Support Services for the Community (CASC, in Spanish), in which professors practice by providing services both to children in the community and to children registered with programs of the Health Department of Puerto Rico.
In fact, the University is particularly committed to remaining an active and positive influence on the community, from promoting health fairs in which Nursing students offer free medical tests, to offering professional help to victims of domestic violence through collaboration with the Department of Justice. “The University follows a humanist philosophy, meaning we work for the benefit of our students”, explains Dr. Cucurella. “We are very much aware there is no economic development without a university degree, and so the mission of the university is to create awareness and to open the way to reinsertion into the community, which is why all our programs are hybrid, accessible and adaptable, to ensure those who are employed, less privileged, or raising a family can pursue professional careers”.
Furthermore, the University enjoys an agile administrative structure with a reduced upper- level hierarchy, which maximizes bureaucratic efficiency and allows for easy internal communications between academic units. In this way, the University is able to react to the needs of the studentship in a quick, assertive and immediate manner, by making use of the various internal channels, such as the Academic Senate, the Office of the University President and the Board of Trustees. Regarding the external communications, the University maintains an intensive information campaign through social and printed media, radio, television and newspapers which has had a major impact on the position of the University as a leading institution.
Through such a campaign, a strong presence in social media and alliances with other institutions, every day new students and professionals from all across the continent are being made aware that in the island of Puerto Rico there is a University committed to providing a highly competitive and thoroughly accredited education at an excellent standard, and accessible to everyone. “There is no greater inheritance than a good education”, says Dr. Cucurella proudly quoting the words of her father, founder of the Caribbean University. “Education is the engine of human development and of the transformation of a people ”