Time for Some Thought About Our Public Higher Education

URI-1999-graduation-featured

Downward trends in enrollment in Rhode Island’s public institutions of higher education could be an inevitability, given demographic trends and younger generations’ (wisely) reevaluating the value of a purposeless slog through college:

Rhode Island College has seen a 4.9-percent drop in the last year, one of the greatest declines of any college in the region.

The University of Rhode Island has experienced a decline of 1.7 percent, and CCRI has dropped by 1.6 percent.

The numbers seem to fly in the face of CCRI’s success with Rhode Island Promise students, recent high school graduates who receive two years of free tuition as long as they maintain a C-plus average and enroll full-time. The college said its enrollment of Promise students has doubled since the program began in summer 2017.

One could speculate that RIC’s disproportionate drop has to do with the ability of its students to take a couple of years for free at CCRI, but the decline generally bears its own explanation.  Beyond the hypothetical inevitabilities mentioned above, an improving economy could be leading some sorts of students to make the leap to private colleges.

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My eldest child is entering the time of college tours and made the long trip across the state to URI with my wife, whom I met when we both attended.  The prospective student remarked how dirty the campus looked.  The alumna indicated that the campus has packed a number of new buildings on its acres, crowding out the ruralish (or at least suburgbanish) feel it had when we were there.

Granted that this is a tough time of year by which to judge a campus, but a subsequent trip to Quinnipiac brought no such criticism.

A URI official quoted in the above-linked article notes that the drop is only down from the university’s highest enrollment ever, last year.  Still, we would be wise to come to a collective decision about what we want higher education to be, in Rhode Island.  Attempting to push people into college isn’t advisable, even if it is ostensibly free to them, while losing the character of a campus can change its makeup, sending some students elsewhere.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    “recent high school graduates who receive two years of free tuition as long as they maintain a C-plus average and enroll full-time.”

    I remember being in divorce court, quite a number of years ago. The issue in contention was child support and tuition for a college student. I think unusually, the judge reviewed the son’s college transcript and announced “Fathers don’t pay for C’s”.

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