After too many years of giving short shrift to public higher education in Rhode Island, the General Assembly and state government appear to have finally begun to reverse this short-sighted policy.
In the budget that cleared the House Finance Committee on a 14 to 2 vote Thursday, the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island have won some important initiatives.
The budget includes support for the shared URI-RIC nursing education center that is slated to be located in the Dynamo Building in Providence’s old Jewelry District, which city and state leaders are trying to rebrand as a `Knowledge District’ featuring medical, educational and research facilities. This new nursing school would be built in a historic building which also feature administrative offices for Brown University.
The House Finance budget also approves sending to voters Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s plan for a bond referendum in the November general election that would finance a new engineering school at URI’s Kingston campus. (It probably didn’t hurt that the new speaker, Cranston Democrat Nick Mattiello, has a son who just graduated from the engineering program at URI).
These moves are significant because they are investments in developing the medical and technology workers that will be crucial to growing Rhode Island’s economy. And lawmakers have made these moves in an era of tight state finances. It is true that other neighboring states, most prominently Massachusetts and Connecticut, have been making investments in higher education for many years.
The other very good news for students at our state public colleges is that the proposed budget calls for additional state money – about $10 million – to ensure that in-state tuition levels are not increased in the coming academic year.