Spring Address | February 5, 2021

 

 

A compact with Rhode Islanders for a stronger Rhode Island

 

Hello to our Rhode Island College community, friends, and stakeholders,

 Right now, I'm speaking with you live from the John Clark science building. And before I start my formal remarks, I want to remind all of you of the substantial bond measure for this upcoming March 2nd special election. 


Question number one on the ballot will be the higher education bond measure. Now, if this is approved, this measure will authorize $107.3 million for public higher education in the state. For Rhode Island College, this means a $38 million allocation to modernize Clark Science, our primary science building. 


You can learn more about this special election on March 2nd by visiting sos.ri.gov. I encourage all of you to vote on this important measure, as it will not only support our continued investment in our academic facilities, but it will ensure we have the necessary technology for a state of the art, science building on the RIT campus. 


Today, I thought I would share with you some reflections on where I see the college as we start the spring 2021 semester as well as highlight the important work ahead of us. We have made tremendous strides, come together in response to COVID-19, while managing a very challenging and difficult budget year. 


The evidence is clear. Rhode Island College can overcome any obstacle and is strongest when our community is united for a common cause. I'm convinced we'll prove that once again as we move the College forward this coming year. After just one month, 2021 has shown all of us that the work of our nation and that of Rhode Island College is fraught with incredibly daunting tasks and at the same time it has presented us with some tremendous and transformative possibilities for action. 


The January 6th deadly attack on our nation's capital is a stark reminder to all of us of our country's deep political, economic, and racial divisions. It also highlights the critical work all of us must do to heal our nation in order to have a more civil and inclusive democracy. Similarly, the College faces its own challenging environment, with state COVID infection rates not yet under control. 

The pandemic's devastating financial impact on our economy, the long standing racial and ethnic inequalities in our educational system, as well as Rhode Island's current transition in state government and legislative leadership. The challenges we face are very real. In fact, today, Rhode Islanders are struggling with the weight of a $500 million state deficit, an 8.1% unemployment rate, and over 6,300 fewer jobs than we had in November. 

These realities are hitting all Rhode Island families hard, with many economically disadvantaged and communities of color struggling to make ends meet. RIC is directly impacted, as so many of our current and future students come from communities struggling most. In response, I am convinced we can use the momentum and collective strength demonstrated this past year as a catalyst for action. 

In doing so, we can secure and build a stronger and more vibrant future for the college and the state of Rhode Island. Indeed, it is time to put forth a bold plan for this new and challenging reality. In fact, I believe our path forward is clearer now than ever before. We must take action as set forth by our 1854 mission as an institution of opportunity. 

We must unequivocally support Rhode Island in its economic recovery by delivering an exceptional education that is both affordable and convenient to all Rhode Islanders who seek it. I am calling on our college community to now lead with the same vigor, innovation, and creativity we saw this past year in response to COVID-19 and advance of Rhode Island College compact with Rhode Islanders. 

This Rhode Island College compact reaffirms RIC as a powerful institution of opportunity for the people of the ocean state, transforming lives, families, and communities. Today, I am committing us to four overarching priorities that support all Rhode Islanders by addressing the growing economic, educational, and cultural needs of the state. 

Priority number one.

Expand pathways to a four year degree.

Residents from every community, in every walk of life across the state urgently need access to high quality academic programs that increase social mobility and economic prosperity for themselves and their families. 


In order to put a 4 year degree within reach to those who want it, I'm calling on our academic community to significantly expand online, evening, and weekend course offerings and programs. Supported with additional investments, this expansion will make RIC a top choice for working adults and the nearly 120,000 Rhode Islanders with some college credit and no pathway to a degree. 


The pandemic has taught us all that it is no longer feasible to require all of our future students to come to us. We must go to our future students. I am convinced this strategy will not only serve Rhode Islanders better but it will help the college stabilize future enrollments by improving access to Rhode Islanders unable to attend the standard 8 to 5 PM course schedule. 


This year's 2021 US News and World Report ranks Rhode Island College number two in the top performers on social mobility among all public colleges in New England. Expanding academic pathways to all Rhode Islanders will further elevate RIC as New England's higher education leader in preparing graduates for careers, greater success, and upward mobility. 
 

Priority number two.

Invest in academic excellence and student success.

I could not be more proud to say that Rhode Island College is ranked number one among Master's granting public institutions in New England, according to the 2020 Washington Monthly National Rankings. 


The college must continue to drive academic excellence by ensuring Rhode Islanders receive the highest academic quality with exceptional teaching, relevant degrees, and marketable certificates. Our graduates must develop the critical thinking skills and broad based knowledge needed to be civically engaged and the applied learning and workforce skills needed to power Rhode Island's economy forward. 


In addition to supporting a strong and relevant liberal arts education, the college must also ensure the quality and sustainability of our academic programs, all while planning for the programmatic investments needed to grow enrollment and support economic growth in our state. To do this, provost Tate, in partnership with faculty leadership, has undertaken a program review process to guide our academic planning which will bolster the student experience in the College as an engine for economic opportunity. 


Exceptional teaching is at the heart of the RIC experience. We will make greater investments that support a personalized learning experience by providing faculty with the best tools and technological infrastructure to support students whether in the classroom doing research or studying around the kitchen table. 


Alongside these academic investments, we must also elevate student success as a high priority. To improve student retention, degree completion, and close equity gaps we must invest in high impact practices, like modern advising systems, supplemental instruction, merit and need based aid programs, physical, mental, and emotional well-being technology, and initiatives to enhance the overall campus climate. 


Priority number three.

Double down on affordability.

On average, 40% of today's RIC's students have no debt upon graduation. Now, that's a number we would like to see increased because current and future Rhode Island families deserve easy access to an affordable, high quality four year degree. 


While Money magazine ranks Rick among the top 10 best value public colleges in New England among medium and large universities, we still have work to do. I am committed to keeping tuition for all Rhode Island residents in the top 20% of the most affordable public four year colleges in New England. 


This commitment will ensure that Rhode Islanders have an affordable option to maximize their return on investment and have minimal debt upon completing their degree. With this commitment it is important to say we cannot maintain our affordability by having sharp tuition increases every other year. 


We must strive to keep tuition at a minimum while also utilizing existing resources more effectively and efficiently, identifying new sources of revenue, and requesting reliable resources from the state. Affordability is only possible with stronger coordination between the College, state legislature, the governor and the Office of Postsecondary Education Council. 


As a strategy to make college affordability a top priority, RIC will work closely with the appropriate governing bodies to establish a rational and predictable tuition policy that enables Rhode Islanders to plan college expenses while allowing the college to build a strategic, dependable, and more cost effective budget plan. 


There has been considerable momentum at the College generating new resources and cutting costs for students already. In recent years, the College has nearly doubled its annual fundraising efforts by strategically engaging more than 65,000 alumni and leveraging our strong RIC foundation board and trustees. 


Over the last three years, our Open Educational Resources Initiatives have saved our students well over $800,000 in textbook expenses. And our partnership with the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority has made public transportation financially accessible for all of our students. 
In addition to the progress on generating new resources and creating efficiencies, the Strategic Budget Resources Planning Committee is identifying contributing factors to our structural deficit. Currently, this body is making data informed recommendations to alleviate financial pressures and identify new areas of investment for my consideration. 

Priority number four.

Advocacy for RIC's future.

In order to showcase our service to the state, we can no longer be Rhode Island's best kept secret. The fiscal challenges we face require ramping up our advocacy and collective action efforts by all Rhode Island College stakeholders. 


Right now, students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and friends of the College are forming campus networks to mobilize around common interests and support the college. This collection of committed voices will amplify the College's vital role across Rhode Island, in our communities, at the state house, and beyond. 


To this end, I am actively reorganizing the College's external and government affairs operations for additional capacity to plan, organize, and coordinate essential external affairs activities. As one of three public higher education institutions, the broader public also deserves and demands to know how Rhode Island is serving the state and utilizing state resources and tuition dollars. 


An effort to provide better budgetary accountability and transparency of our good stewardship of taxpayers' dollars, I am committed to submitting an annual budget report, including new efficiencies, improvements, and accomplishments to be made available online at ric.edu. 


In closing, the Rhode Island College compact I've outlined today reflects an ambitious and necessary set of priorities for the college. RIC faces unprecedented challenges and equally unprecedented opportunities. This call to action directs Rhode Island College to support all Rhode Islanders by expanding greater flexibility to receive a college degree or certificate, investing in academic excellence and student success, championing tuition affordability, and together, advocating for Rhode Island College's future. 


It is clear to achieve these priorities, I need your support. Over the course of the next several weeks I, will be meeting and talking with our campus community, divisions, departments, and offices to share this vision and to seek your input.

The time is now for Rhode Island College.

It is time to meet the challenges of 2021 with a common voice and a united purpose.

It is time to be bold.

Please join me, your colleagues, and the entire RIC community in this endeavor and let's be bold together.

Thank you.