Saving Higher Education in Rhode Island: A Potential Solution

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This post describes a potential solution to Rhode Island’s higher education problems as documented in the Governor’s budget, Article 11, Rhode Island Promise. Let’s begin with a little history.

House Commission on Public Higher Education

            In January of 2011, House Resolution No. 5193 established the House Commission on Public Higher Education Affordability and Accessibility. The purpose of the commission was to make a comprehensive study of the administrative and academic decisions and practices at the institution and system levels that affect affordability and accessibility and to provide recommendations regarding actions that can reasonably be taken at the state and institutional levels to enhance the affordability and increase the accessibility of public higher education to all Rhode Islanders.

            As stated in my previous post, Killing Higher Education in Rhode Island, I attended almost every commission meeting. I also attended the three campus visits to URI, RIC, and CCRI.

            Based on documentation and testimony, I formulated a potential solution to some of the problems in public higher education. Given the fact that many of the problems still remain (Article 11), I offer my views again for consideration.

Restructuring Higher Education in Rhode Island

            In August 2011, I sent an email to Commission Chair Rep. Frank Ferri. A summary of recommendations, Restructuring Higher Education in Rhode Island, was provided to generate discussion about commission findings to that point.

            Since curriculum and transfer were major issues, the first bullet was

            1) Divide CCRI into two institutions: CCRI_URI and CCRI_RIC. Each two-year college is academically and administratively linked to its four-year host. Minimal administrative support is needed for the two-year colleges.

            The primary objective was to align curriculum at CCRI directly with the four-year schools. By aligning curriculum, all courses would fulfill program requirements for associate and baccalaureate degrees at URI and RIC.

            Let me be direct (as stated in the email) it would eliminate articulation agreements between CCRI and URI and RIC respectively.

            One of the major benefits highlighted in the email was

            5) Streamlined academics and administrative functions will speed the development of new products and services from concepts at the four-year schools to training at the two-year schools. In addition, public awareness courses can be developed and offered at the two year institutions.

Benefits of Restructuring

            From a business perspective, eliminating a layer of administrative overhead costs will reduce the operational costs of the two-year school. Any Rhode Island Promise funds can be used to subsidize the expenses of the primary service providers, the faculty.

            From an educational standpoint, students will benefit from curriculum and pedagogy directly aligned with their four-year institution (i.e. URI and RIC will have a continuous supply of students for a six year period).

            Students could also benefit from creative scheduling. If URI and RIC consider changing to three 10 week terms, some demanding courses could be extended over 20 weeks. Clearly, this is a better option than a 3 – 4 week Winter Term (some of my views on the shorter term were discussed in Winter Terms and Academic Integrity).

            With this approach, a fully funded two year school creates dynamic opportunities for a wide range of student learning styles and preserves college academic integrity.

As always, in the words of Edward R. Murrow, “Good night and good luck.”

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