In most plans to pull Rhode Island out of its economic doldrums, harnessing the power of the state’s colleges and universities is a central strategy.
But despite the prominence that higher education has in the Ocean State economy, the cycle of budget cuts and flat or limited annual spending increases for public higher education that began when the economy first collapsed is still with us.
After hiking tuition at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and Community College of Rhode Island this year to plug a budget gap, this fall the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education proposed a budget asking for $14 million in additional state funding to avoid further tuition increases.
Where that money is going to come from is far from clear.
Although the state added $4 million in higher education spending in the budget approved in 2011 and this year’s spending was flat, the 2013-2014 budget cycle is shaping up to feature more tough decisions.
As his administration begins preparing the budget for next year, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee has asked all state departments, including higher education, to cut their budgets 7 percent. Such cuts would require not only more tuition hikes, which will be required if state spending remains flat, but new reductions to teaching resources.
“I can say generally that it impacts everything,” said board of governors Chairman Lorne A. Adrain about a decade of budget cuts and limited increases. “Students end up [paying more] because of the shortfall, the [schools pay more] because of budget cuts internally. Quality of programs ultimately becomes an issue.”
Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger declined to comment on the board of governors’ proposal, but pointed out that Chafee tried to add $10 million to the fiscal 2012 higher education budget and supported two state higher education bonds.
Public college and university spending showdowns are a familiar pattern in the Ocean State.
A study released by the National Science Foundation this fall found that Rhode Island reduced its per-student state contribution to higher education more than all but one other state – Colorado – from 2002 to 2010.