Next week Rhode Island voters will be asked – through a ballot referendum - to support the state’s first public institution of higher education. By voting yes on Question 3, you will be improving higher education for thousands of Rhode Islanders, making them more effective and competitive as employees. In addition, you will be creating hundreds of badly needed jobs for Rhode Islanders.
Approval of Question 3 will provide Rhode Island College with $44 million in funding to renovate and modernize two of its oldest and largest classroom buildings, where all the nearly 8,000 undergraduates take one or more classes. The buildings will be made technologically appropriate for teaching, will be made safer, more energy efficient and appropriate for students with special physical needs.
An additional $6 million will enable the renovation, upgrading and expansion of the 8,000-square-foot Fogarty Life Science building that is devoted to nursing education. At present, the burgeoning nursing and allied health programs have a combined enrollment of nearly 1,400 students and only one classroom and two labs dedicated to their education and training needs. This modest expansion will hopefully be followed by the building of a strategically important RIC-URI nursing building in the near future.
Rhode Island College is essential to the economic growth of this state. Eighty-six percent of its undergraduate students and 92 percent of its graduate students are Rhode Island residents – and the vast majority of its graduates remain in Rhode Island. We all know a graduate of RIC – they are our teachers, our social workers our nurses and our business and community leaders. Rhode Island College provides opportunities to those willing to work hard and make sacrifices to earn a college degree.
Many of its students are first-generation Americans and/or the first in their families to attend college. Rhode Island College provides an extraordinary opportunity for them and others to develop the skills and knowledge needed to realize their potential and make their best contribution to our economy and our communities in a rapidly changing world.
In 2011, for the first time, the U.S. saw more than 30 percent of its adult population with at least a bachelor’s degree. Increasing demand for higher education is a matter of simple economics: higher skills and knowledge means better preparation for better jobs. Median pay for those with a bachelor’s degree was 70 percent higher than those with just a high school diploma.
Even more significantly, during the peak of the economic crisis, those without a high school diploma saw their unemployment rates reach almost 18 percent, whereas those with at least a bachelor’s degree saw unemployment rates top out at just 5.6 percent. Educated, engaged citizens are essential to a competitive economy and to continuing progress in all aspects of our society. This is an investment in the future of the state, producing a citizenry that is well-informed and armed with the educational skill sets needed to move our state forward.
The passage of Question 3 and the renovation of these buildings are an investment in the people of our state, its economy and its future. In addition, the construction work created by the bond issue will add hundreds of badly needed jobs that Rhode Island needs now. Please join me in supporting this important investment. •
Lorne Adrain is chairman of the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education and managing director of Ballentine Partners LLC.