Catherine Enos and Lucille DiNaro –Opinions Editor and Business Manager
The legislative session is well under way, and so are the efforts of faculty, administrators and Rhode Islanders working towards the expansion of the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship. On April 10, an array of people testified in favor of the Promise Scholarship’s achievements and possible expansion to RIC students as proposed in the Governor’s budget bill. The testimony of two RIC professors suggested that RIC played a unique role in the legislative process.
And, indeed, for a large part of the spring semester, a group of RIC faculty have met weekly and stayed in communication with representatives from the Governor’s office to discuss the Promise and the concerns they had with its accompanying administrative provisions.
“The Governor’s office reached out to RIC… to get us to support the Promise Scholarship, which probably almost uniformly everybody thinks is absolutely fabulous.” Dr. Schmeling, chair of the Committee on Political Education, said. “We all get that our students struggle financially.” However, the new requirements of the Post-Secondary Council that accompany the expansion of the Promise Scholarship were somewhat “concerning,” according to Dr. Schmeling.
The areas of the bill that were cause for concern included performance-based funding initiatives, a common course numbering system and major revisions to the transfer credit articulation policies. In his verbal testimony on April 10, Dr. Schmeling pointed to ample research and institutional knowledge that suggests that the provisions would have been detrimental to the college and students.
Governor Raimondo’s Education Policy Advisor, Art Nevins, worked directly with faculty members to develop a revised version of the budget request, while honoring “the goal to make it easier for students to transfer in between institutions and navigate the higher education system.” A key motivator behind the new reporting requirements was the Governor’s desire to evaluate the Post-Secondary council’s ability to monitor and assess learning outcomes. “If you are going to RIC and going into the workforce, we want to make sure that you are getting a degree that will give you a good job and a good place in Rhode Island. We want to make sure that colleges do their part to make sure students are successful.”
“The way to achieve those goals really threatened institutional autonomy,” Dr. Bohlinger, chair of the RIC faculty commented. Dr. Pearlmutter, Interim Provost, agrees that “We could have some more serious thoughts about our capacity at looking at learning outcomes. That had been looked at when we did our change to general education programs about six years ago, and they decided to stay with themes.” While CCRI and URI develop curriculum based on learning outcomes, RIC curriculum is developed thematically. Discrepancies between the three institutions’ general education programs complicates the ease of transfer between CCRI, RIC and URI.
The administration of the college played a role in this process, too. “While this was largely a faculty initiative, the administration has been totally on board with this…” Dr. Arthur, an executive board member of the AFT, said, “they have other angles of involvement that we don’t have, so it’s been useful.”
Dr. Pearlmutter was adamant that should the Promise Scholarship pass, RIC will remain in control of curriculum related decisions and will maintain its institutional autonomy. Should these changes take effect, a committee of educators and administrators at the three post secondary institutions will be responsible for implementation of these new requirements.
Ultimately, the coalition of faculty and administrators agreed upon new provisions that were presented to the Senate Committee on Education on April 10. Despite disagreement and bargaining between the Governor’s office, RIC faculty and college administrators, they unanimously stress the importance of student involvement to pass this legislation. “Students don’t realize how much of a voice they can have” Dr. Arthur said. Dr. Bohlinger added that he hopes that “students become advocates and get in touch with their particular representatives… it’s really crucial that students become engaged.”