‘Now is our time’: URI President Parlange unveils school’s strategic plan

MARC B. PARLANGE, center, president of the University of Rhode Island, answers questions from Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White, left, and URI Provost Barbara Wolfe during Wednesday's State of the University event. / SCREENSHOT VIA YOUTUBE
MARC B. PARLANGE, center, president of the University of Rhode Island, answers questions from Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White, left, and URI Provost Barbara Wolfe during Wednesday's State of the University event. / SCREENSHOT VIA YOUTUBE

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – In front of a live audience Wednesday in Edwards Hall, University of Rhode Island President Marc B. Parlange unveiled a 10-year plan for the school that includes building on its growing research capabilities and helping the state become a global leader in the blue economy.

In his 20-minute State of the University address, Parlange said the university has defied national and international higher education enrollment trends that for the last few years “have been a challenge” for other colleges and universities. Last year, URI received 25,400 applications to attend the university, with 3,400 first-year students enrolling for the first time, both URI records, Parlange said.

The university president also said URI, in its efforts to expand opportunities for students of all backgrounds, awarded 15 scholarships to students who are federally recognized from the Narragansett Indian Nation. The awards were presented through URI’s Narragansett Tribe undergraduate scholarship program, he said.

Regarding URI’s economic impact, Parlange said 30 new businesses have been spun off from research and technologies developed on the university campus. He also said, citing a recent analysis, that for every $1 state investment into URI, the university returns $6.25 in economic impact. In 2019, URI generated $824 million in statewide economic activity, supporting more than 8,000 jobs. Parlange also mentioned URI is “on its way” to raising $300 million in its capital campaign.

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“We are building a university for the future, one that generates students, faculty, staff and alumni, and one that they will continue to be proud of,” Parlange said.

Parlange also outlined URI’s new 10-year strategic plan, with various mile markers for the university’s future success. The plan, named “Focus URI: A Strategic Vision for the University of Rhode Island,” offers four strategic priorities – broadening URI’s impact, enhancing student achievement, fostering an inclusive culture and powering the university of the future. The plan came to fruition through working sessions and community forums on the university’s campuses that generated more than 800 pages of notes and comments from hundreds of URI community members, the university said.

“This is our roadmap,” Parlange said of the plan. “It will help us navigate challenges, seize opportunities and measure our success. It will help us distinguish ourselves from our peers, forge new partnerships and invigorate with a new sense of purpose.”

Among the goals outlined in the plan are having URI becoming a “destination” for global companies seeking to collaborate with faculty and students in research and research translation. The plan also calls for the university to become a “major hub” of blue economy activity.

URI’s plan also calls for it to increase graduate student enrollment and degree completion, including developing new professional master’s degree programs that respond to labor market trends, as well as students’ interests and needs. The university also wants to create a diverse learning environment to ensure that an education from URI is “within reasonable reach for all students.” Additionally, the university’s plan contains actions to create and offer “new facilities and spaces” that offer a more collaborative approach to community wellness, including improving mental health.

Developing housing and residential life plans that support diverse communities and strengthening capital and facilities maintenance improvement plans are also part of URI’s new strategic plan. Also, URI wants to partner with the state, as well as federal agencies, to ensure that the university “has the financial resources necessary to deliver on its land- and sea-grant missions and fully realize its potential to improve the lives of all Rhode Islanders.”

“Now is our time,” Parlange said. “There is so much we can achieve together.”

During a post-speech conversation with Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White and URI Provost Barbara E. Wolfe, Parlange said the university plans to partner with industries and industry leaders to help address the state’s workforce. He also said the university wants its students to work for businesses for experience and to receive credit for that.

“It’s positive for students, they get to test different fields,” Parlange said. “The companies have a first look [at a possible employee].”

URI is also pursuing three innovation hubs to help the economy. Parlange described one on Peckham Farm, where the university plans to produce 8.5% of the state’s produce. Right now, Rhode Island makes 2.5% of the produce it currently eats, Parlange said.

Parlange also mentioned that URI will be constructing new residence halls on campus, He said the university will use a new revenue bond from the state to build the halls, although he did not say when those new residence halls will come online.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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