Saving Higher Education in Rhode Island: Problem and Solution

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The Problem

            The following quote is taken from Restructuring Public Higher Education , the document I submitted to the House Commission on Public Higher Education Affordability and Accessibility.

            The current Higher Education structure contains many academic and administrative inefficiencies. URI, RIC, and CCRI currently function as three independent units with numerous business agreements that formally tie them together. This creates the need for layers of administrative support that slows decision and implementation of all reasonable business requests. Some of the administrative support is tied to academic agreements that are not always in the students’ best interest. Articulation agreements that diminish the value of college courses at CCRI from program requirement courses to general education requirements at the four year schools continues to disappoint and anger students at CCRI.

            The articulation agreements continue to plague RI public higher education (see Article 11 Rhode Island Promise).

            Other problems associated with higher education included tying curriculum to economic development initiatives.

            With respect to the economic situation, Rhode Island is desperately seeking business opportunities to create jobs. It is looking to the public higher education system to provide a marketable workforce to bring companies to Rhode Island.

            The “if we train them business will come” mindset still isn’t working.

Restructuring: A potential solution

            The document I submitted to the House Commission on Public Higher Education Affordability and Accessibility recommended merging CCRI into URI and RIC. The suggestion was based on the following points

            1. Articulation problems would be eliminated

            2. Elimination of administrative costs would allow for more efficient use of state funds in the higher education system

            3. Continuous dialogue among faculty would streamline the economic innovation research at URI into the technical education curriculum (CCRI) and the K-12 educational system in the teacher preparation programs (RIC).

            I stand by those recommendations as essential to any solution to Rhode Island’s economic and higher education coordination problems.

Implementation Problems

           Let me sum up the major problem in one word, LABOR. (Sorry, flaming is essential in this case.)  Of course, I focused on faculty in the proposal, but that doesn’t mean administrative support issues were ignored.

            Faculty

                       This will be the major labor challenge. There are only three institutions in RI higher education, and each has their own labor representative. AAUP (@URI), AFT(@RIC) and NEA (@CCRI). Since I’m not a fan of organized labor, the idea of faculty disaffiliating from these organizations is the ideal solution.

                       But life is far from ideal, so consolidating under one union roof, AAUP, is preferable. Of course, in a compromise, two unions (AAUP and AFT) is a good start.

            Administrative Support

                       Job elimination in any merger is painful, but unfortunately necessary. I lived through the defense downsizing of the ‘90s at the end of the Cold War. It can be challenging, but it can be done. Creating a unified higher education admission center may actually create some new direct support positions to assist students.

Next Post

           In a future post on this topic, I will offer a possible schedule for implementation of the restructuring. Of course, all timelines are moot in the absence of supporting legislation.

            But as I said in my restructuring document,

            Improving speed and efficiency in higher education, without sacrificing academic integrity, requires more than “thinking outside the box”. This is Rhode Island; throw the box out. We need a solution that addresses the uniqueness that is Rhode Island.

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