URI trustees to consider 3.5% tuition hike for both R.I. and out-of-state students 

TUITION AT THE University of Rhode Island would increase 3.5% for both in-state and out-of-state students in the next academic year under a proposal that received preliminary approval Monday by the university’s Board of Trustees Finance and Facilities Sub-Committee.  / COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND

Tuition at the University of Rhode Island would increase 3.5% for both in-state and out-of-state students in the next academic year under a proposal that received preliminary approval Monday by the university’s Board of Trustees Finance and Facilities Sub-Committee. 

The cost of housing and dining services would also rise 3.6%. And mandatory fees paid by students would increase 0.9% to help the university cover expenses for the student union and fitness center.  

The tuition and fee hikes are pending approval from the full Board of Trustees, which next meets Feb. 16. 

For the 2023-2024 academic year, the board unanimously passed separate tuition increases: 3.3% for Rhode Island students, and 4.2% for out-of-state learners. Undergrad tuition rates for the 2023-2024 academic year were $16,408 and $35,804 for in-state and out-of-state students, respectively.  

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Tuition prices are typically reevaluated in September, said Abby Benson, interim vice president for administration and finance. This time around, the discussion was held off until February, Benson said, so the tuition numbers could be better informed by Gov. Daniel J. McKee’s proposed budget as well as the enrollment census.  

“The big takeaway here is that we have some work to do,” Benson said. “The governor’s budget really only met $3.4 million of our need, which is an increase from last year but certainly not keeping up with what our requirements are. But again, this is just one step in the process and we have a lot of advocacy in front of us.”   

McKee didn’t make much space for the school’s current service level needs: His proposed budget would only allocate $3.4 million, whereas URI requested $27.7 million. Requests to achieve strategic initiatives and plug operating shortfalls, at $14 million and $4.1 million respectively, both went unanswered.  

The current service level is the biggest chunk of the university’s budget. Personnel costs, which includes contractual obligations to union faculty, make up $11.7 million of the $27.7 million in the university’s requested appropriation. 

“If we don’t get this money, what happens to the contractual category?” asked Margo Cook, chair of the board. 

“We are required to meet those contractual needs,” Benson explained. “These are things that we really have to have to meet and prioritize over other operating budget items…That’s the challenge. That’s why it’s called ‘current service level’ so that they’re pretty fixed needs.” 

Benson noted that the General Assembly saved the day last year: Their enacted budget for fiscal 2024 provided $6.2 million for the operating shortfall while the governor’s budget yielded nothing. Overall, the university’s general appropriation was $105.4 million.  

“That was a significant jump from FY 23. About 16%,” Benson said. “We were very thankful that the General Assembly got us that really record breaking appropriation.” 

Enrollment, meanwhile, isn’t breaking records. The fiscal 2024 budget request from URI indicated 13,413 undergraduates and 1,089 graduate students. For fiscal 2025, the school anticipates 13,495 undergraduates and 1,213 graduate students.  

The university originally predicted 1,425 in-state freshmen for fiscal 2024, but only 1,274 enrolled. Out-of-state students filled that gap, however, with 1,894 enrolling instead of the 1,735 predicted.   

The formula used in URI’s enrollment assumptions assumes the school loses $1.1 million in net revenue for every 0.5% drop in enrollment. That makes competition with the state’s other two public universities, Community College of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College, an important consideration.  

“[Rhode Island] only graduates about 10,000 high school students a year and not all go on to college,” said Dean Libutti, associate vice president for enrollment management and student success. “We are certainly seeing a movement of students that normally would come to the university, that are admitted to the university, that since enrolled at the community college.” 

URI President Marc Parlange echoed that sentiment: “We had 405 students last year that were admitted to URI that chose to go to RIC and CCRI on the basis of fees.” 

Both Parlange and Libutti noted that the Promise Scholarship Program, which sends students to CCRI, can affect enrollment numbers. Libutti was happy the adjusted target for transfers in fiscal 2024 — 530 students — had been met when the numbers were checked in October 2023.  

URI currently charges $2,292 for mandatory fees. The proposed increase would translate to students paying an additional $10 in two categories. One is the fitness and wellness center, which Benson said “has to do with recently increased student minimum wage requirements.” The other increase involves fees for Memorial Student Union. 

“We increased it two years ago because we were intending to renovate it,” Benson said. “And then when we decided to put that project on hold to focus on housing, we reduced the fee. But we’re realizing we need to do some short term renovations to shore up Memorial Union. So that increase in fee will allow us to do some of these short term capital projects.” 

 Alexander Castro is a staff writer for the Rhode Island Current.

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