Committee Convenes in August; Contemplating the Future of Higher Education in Rhode Island
Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner, together with The Hunt Institute, brought together leaders from throughout the state to form the OPC Advisory Committee. The committee represented a diverse set of constituencies, including leading state policymakers, directors of state agencies, higher education leaders, student representatives, workforce leaders, community leaders, and others, and convened three times throughout the late summer, early fall of 2021.
The convening of this advisory committee allowed stakeholders from across the state to hear timely and relevant presentations on best practices and successful models deployed in states across the nation. OPC staff presented state-specific information for each topic and laid out their plan for driving progress forward. After the presentations, committee members gathered in small groups to discuss details. The content from the presentations, small group discussions, and other relevant information were synthesized by The Hunt Institute staff into key-takeaways. A final report was generated and available here to download.
Each meeting featured an overarching theme as well as two policy topics that:
In 2017, Rhode Island prioritized postsecondary attainment as a strategy for cultivating a robust economy by setting an ambitious postsecondary attainment goal of 70% of all adults by 2025. With new statewide leadership —and specifically with Dr. Shannon Gilkey recently appointed as the Rhode Island Postsecondary Commissioner — there was a need to bring a group together to chart a course forward. The pandemic placed greater emphasis on the need for a degree or credential beyond high school, and as a state, leaders needed to grapple with how to make postsecondary education critical for the state’s future. Higher education funding is dramatically underfunded compared to both the state’s K-12 system and other state postsecondary systems; and, there is a need to set a collective vision to provide the resources needed given how vital education is to the economy. This committee was charged with providing recommendations to the commissioner to inform the work of OPC and the state’s higher education system.
OPC is grateful to The Hunt institute for facilitating the meetings. Established in 2001, The Hunt Institute honors the legacy of James B. Hunt, Jr., the former governor of North Carolina who distinguished himself as an ardent champion of education. The Hunt Institute brings together people and resources to inspire and inform elected officials and policymakers about key issues in education, resulting in visionary leaders who are prepared to take strategic action for greater educational outcomes and student success.
Postsecondary Commissioner Shannon W. Gilkey convened local, state and national experts in higher education and workforce development to set priorities for Rhode Island’s postsecondary system. The committee met in three day-long sessions, and the results of the conversations will inform the strategic direction of the work of our office.
Key among the recommendations were:
“Essentially, the Advisory Committee found that in order for the state to make good, living-wage jobs with longevity accessible to more Rhode Islanders, the higher education system needs to focus its efforts on students who sometimes find themselves struggling to earn degrees and credentials that will qualify them for those very jobs,” said Commissioner Gilkey. “Rhode Island needs to make the college/workforce training experience easier for any person, at any age, to attain any degree or credential without complications. For too long, the people who enter workforce training or college on a different schedule than the ‘right-after-high-school’ path discover that their path can be fraught with issues such as debt, childcare, full-time work, biases, limited choices, and outdated policies. Fortunately, we have an established base of resources, talent, vested parties, and the sheer will to make our higher education system more accessible, more affordable, and more helpful to learners.”
“Upon examination of the data, it is clear that students who are black, indigenous, or persons of color are underrepresented in the workforce training and college sectors,” said Ledbetter. “Addressing adult BIPOC barriers with direct resources will certainly aid in persistence and completion.”
Added Weygand, “As a state, we need to help BIPOC students in K-12 classrooms start their college experiences earlier and with more marketing, education, and outreach. The programs to earn college credits and even associate degrees are available and are successful, but most are underutilized and favored by white students. The expansion to all high school students will boost attainment and enable high school graduates to continue on successfully to college or begin work with necessary credentials already in hand.”
Chief among the other recommendations were: increasing workforce trainings that support the R.I. economy; equity in enrollment; expanding the Rhode Island Reconnect program; improving the education data collection system; adding more advisors and equipping them with better communications about training and learning options; and creating a statewide prior learning assessment program.