DISTANCE LEARNING AND THE VIRGIN ISLANDS

Dear Source,
I was on the telephone today to LaVerne Ragster, president of the University of the Virgin Islands. What we were discussing was the possibility of St. Croix being further developed as a locus of higher education.
At times it has seemed as though UVI was determined to be the sole postsecondary institution in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The response from President Ragster was that UVI was only concerned that it be the sole public-funded one. This is a much more reasonable position. A private institution would also, it is implied, be expected to draw most of its students from outside.
I am a former member of the advisory board of the Economic Development Authority (EDA) and was also on the membership board of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce. I now reside in the Boston area where I do business research, business development and business brokerage.
I have a continuing interest in the future of the Virgin Islands and collectively my family owns over a million dollars worth of equity in property on the island. In my EDA advisory function I was asked to draw up a five-year plan for the island.
My position at the time was and still is that we [St. Croix] should have more emphasis put on light industry, shipping/trade and education. Our tourism should not be more than a third of the islands' economic base. We should avoid the tourist-dependency level of St. Thomas. Agriculture, which many presume dead, has a future with proper policy support — horses, especially.
In this particular piece I would like to touch on distance education. I see that UVI is just now beginning to offer distance courses. There are a great many programs from other institutions already. The DETC [Distance Education and Training Council] claims 2.5 million and growing in their accrediting association's programs. Growth justifies UVI's action. These institutions have various residency requirement levels.
The Virgin Islands are an attractive place for short residency programs. This format typically has students stay for a two-week period at the beginning of each term, then allows them to study by mail and Internet from anywhere in the world. Students would, however, be making longer island visits than tourists.
Many people still consider the island a nice place to visit. Entering a program requiring eight visits over a three-and-a-half year period would be an attractive prospect to them. Graduation ceremonies — the culmination of a major life point — could bring in many new visitors.
People have more favorable feelings about where they graduated than where they lost money gambling. I know of an educational institution other than UVI interested in offering short residency distance programs from the Virgin Islands. It currently does its business from Florida and has a 4,000-person enrollment level in nonresidency programs.
Other educational programs of a full-term residential nature with good prospects for St. Croix include tourism/hotel management and federal administrative law The first-mentioned is complementary to the tourist industry and might operate on its own cruise ship.
The second program is not subject to ABA [American Bar Association] mandated requirements. There are actually many non-ABA law schools across the United States, chartered by states with a lower overhead requirement. Their graduates are only able to practice before the bar in state. With about 100,000 people, the Virgin Islands does not have a large enough base for a bar attorney law school, even without the higher ABA mandated overhead.
The federal administrative courts, however, mostly do not require bar certification for advocates. Internal Revenue Service enrolled agents defenders in audits are one of the largest categories. A graduate can then practice anywhere in the United States. This would allow student enrollment in the Virgin Islands from across the United States.
Richard Bond
Boston, Mass., and St. Croix

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