Friday, March 11, 2011

A (Possible) Reversal of the Budget Decline

As we in Rhode Island know, Governor Lincoln D. Chafee's first budget presentation to the General Assembly contained some welcome news for Rhode Island higher education: a $10 million increase over our 2011 budget. The Board of Governors for Higher Education had requested a $31 million increase -- an amount that would be sufficient to freeze tuition at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and the Community College of Rhode Island. Although the request was received sympathetically, the Governor and his team concluded that, given the current fiscal challenges confronting the state, funding the full request was not possible.

Nonetheless, I believe that it would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Governor's proposed budget increase for higher education. Across America the news has been almost invariably poor for public higher education. Staggering budget cuts for public colleges and universities have been proposed in many states. Although Rhode Island's fiscal problems are as challenging as those found elsewhere, it appears that within our State there is a growing recognition of the importance of higher education in creating a new economy and providing the jobs that are critically needed. That is good news, and not just for URI, RIC, and CCRI. It is good news for all of Rhode Island. Like our international competitors, Rhode Island is investing in strategies -- education, research, technology transfer, workforce training -- that will help us build a more globally competitive economy.

At the University of Rhode Island we take very seriously our responsibility to provide a strong return on the investment made in us by the people of Rhode Island. We will work even harder to provide high quality undergraduate, graduate, and professional education. Equally, we will continue to enhance our research, scholarship, and creative work, along with our service to the people of the state. Our colleagues at RIC and CCRI share our commitment to providing high value for the resources entrusted to us. And each of us is also committed to working together to generate more efficient use of those resources -- the planning for a joint nursing facility in Providence for URI and RIC is a great example.

The General Assembly will now take up the Governor's proposed budget. We should be cautious about predicting the final outcome. But the leadership of the legislature, and many of its members, have expressed strong support for higher education, for ensuring that it remains affordable to Rhode Islanders, and for the quality needed for our graduates to be prepared to succeed.

If you believe that investing in higher education is important to economic renewal and prosperity, let your representatives in the legislature know. Your support and input will be important.

Rhode Island has an opportunity in these challenging times to send a message that will be noticed. It is a message that we are moving forward, that we are taking the steps necessary to rebuild our economy, and that we are investing in our people -- giving them the knowledge and experience required to pursue their dreams. Thanks in advance for helping us send that message across our state, throughout our region, and to all of America.