SOUTH KINGSTOWN – University of Rhode Island President David M. Dooley is not thinking about the new men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley or the state investigation into the Institute for International Sport. His main thought is how tuition costs are rising – a factor he blames on declining state support.
“The costs are shifting from taxpayers in the state to families – a much smaller base,” Dooley states.
In front of a crowd of 200 community and faculty members during a lunch-time talk, Dooley says the national public discussion on rising tuition is misguided. It is not because public institutions are spending more money per student, but because state support has dropped on a national average “dollar for dollar.”
For the fall of 2012 the university increased tuition by 9.5 percent, which is built on the assumption that the school will receive less state aid. State appropriation - $58 million in general obligation bonds - accounts for 17 percent of the total budget at URI. This represents a 24 million or 29 percent decline in state support.
Dooley says over the years enrollment has increased, while state aid has remained stagnant or decreased. For next year, URI received its highest applicant pool in history – 20,500.
“We deal with more students for the same resources,” Dooley says.
Depending on what the courts decide in the lawsuits challenging state pension reform, Dooley stresses that “the problem will get worse and the hole in the Rhode Island budget will get bigger quickly.”
Aware of fiscal woes, at the State House, Dooley is not advocating for increases to aid, but pleading for no further reductions.
In dealing with this situation, URI tries to answer one question – How will it maintain affordability while also trying to maintain a quality education?
The university’s strategic goals play a part as URI attempts to become a school with a global perspective and an economic engine for the state.
To solve the problem, Dooley states educators, students, and parents must create a climate where the public will support public education as a means to improve the economy and build a community where everyone feels welcome.
“Only then will the General Assembly come back to URI and say it’s possible to reinvest and continue the economic engine you helped us get started,” he insists.
Since the school originated in 1888 as the land grant college – funded by the sale of public lands, it has depended on state appropriation. Fast forward 124 years, Dooley says the research institution has to think in new ways to build programs to meet the challenges of the 21st century, including realigning state support.
“The realm in which we work is not really of the fiscal situation we face,” Dooley states.
While many initiatives will address current challenges, URI will protect one aspect – its ability to provide an education with a return on investment. This is measured by how much a student will earn versus how much he or she paid for the education URI is ranked as one of the top in the nation by Money Matters in this regard.
“There is one thing worse than graduating with student debt. It is graduating with student debt and no prospects,” Dooley states.
To protect a student’s high return on investment, Dooley asserts that the university will provide an education where students are competitive in a global economy. This is where the school’s collaboration with the private sector industry comes in. The university plans to work with businesses to determine what skills they need and then educate students to fulfill those needs. Recently, URI officials have been working with a pharmaceutical company in Rhode Island that will bring 50 jobs to the state.
“All of us have a stake in student success,” Dooley says. "We want to understand what they need so we can make sure there's a URI student ready for every spot."