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Motion to raise tuition amended by RI Board of Governors

By Lance San Souci
On November 1, 2011



The Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education (RIBGHE), noting the financial burdens increasing tuition would have on students, voted last night to amend the motion that would have called for a tuition increase at Rhode Island state colleges and universities.

Chairman of the RIBGHE Lorne Adrain said this would essentially postpone voting on the item until a later date while the committee "ensures and redoubles" its efforts for finding more funding, essentially garnering all the savings it can cull.  If more funding and savings are found, the revenue that would be generated through increased tuition would be offset.

The original motion called for a tuition hike at Rhode Island's three schools of higher education:  The University of Rhode Island (URI), Rhode Island College (RIC) and the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI).  URI would have seen a 9.5 percent tuition increase for in-state students and a 2.5 percent increase for out-of-state students.

URI Student Senate President David Coates said this would be consistent with the steady tuition increases URI has seen over the past decade.  He said it was "surprising" the board suggested they had no other alternatives to increasing tuition.

"Education provides a massive benefit to the state," Coates said, adding that it attracts companies and a workforce to Rhode Island to drive its economy.  He said there are at least two clear routes that would prevent a tuition hike which are an increase in state support or cut costs and consolidate the university.

"[Periodically increasing tuition] is not a sustainable path," he said.

The board echoed Coates' sentiment in that increasing tuition should be a last resort, and said it may have reached a point where no other alternative is feasible given their deadlines.  Adrain said the board will continue to ask the state legislature for "additional dollars," but must remain realistic, particularly because the board received $13 million last year to be split among the three schools.

However CCRI President Ray Di Pasquale saw another route.  Last year, each public school of higher education increased its tuition, including URI by 8.5 percent but CCRI froze its tuition at 0 percent. The college ended up $5 million short of funding because of its decision to maintain its tuition rate.

Supporting the increase, Associate Commissioner of Finance Susan Capanne said there is a series of data that justifies increasing tuition at Rhode Island schools.  Because state appropriations to schools of higher education are so low, the RIBGHE must seek alternative ways to offset the lack of state funding.

She noted that Rhode Island is 47th in the nation, per 1,000, in personal income and 46th in the nation per capita. This means Rhode Island schools receive relatively little state appropriations compared to other colleges.

Yet, she noted that compared to other New England schools, Rhode Island education comes with a smaller price tag; she said RIC has the cheapest tuition for a college in New England and URI is around the 50th percentile, right on par with the University of Connecticut and the University of Vermont.

Because enrollment at Rhode Island schools are at record highs, increasing tuition is a simple way to offset costs due to lack of state funding, she said.  These costs, she added, are paralleled by a significant increase in financial aid and Pell Grants to students as well.

For the 2011-12 fiscal year, there was a 17 percent increase in student financial aid and in 2012-13, there is a prospective 9.2% increase.  She argued the increase in financial aid may help offset the couple hundred dollars each student may be required to pay if the motion is passed.

However, URI President David Dooley offered a glimmer of hope.

"If appropriations increase, tuition will decrease," he said.  "[The motion] needs approval in a timely way, and if it decreases [because of increased state appropriations], it'll just make students happier when they see they're actually paying less than they anticipated."

Coates agreed Dooley's positive statement.

"If we have state support, we can continue along the path of getting better, and turn the Rhode Island economy around," Coates said.  "I hope the [RIBGHE] takes the responsibility to act as representatives for the institution and not just as arbitrators."

Chairman Adrain was unable to comment on what amends will be made to the tuition increase motion, and did not specify when it will be voted on.

In other news:

The RIBGHE approved a motion that allows URI to offer an Acute Care Nursing Practitioner track within the Master's Program.

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