When traditional pillars of the Rhode Island economy faltered in recent decades, education remained a reliable driver of investment and high-paying jobs.
So it was startling when the state’s most recent employment report showed the private-education sector lost 1,100 jobs between April and May and 1,500 jobs from one year ago.
The 23,800 people employed in private colleges, universities, high schools, training schools and in various educational-support services was the lowest monthly total since January 2008, according to statistics from the R.I. Department of Labor and Training. The numbers are seasonally adjusted and do not include public schools or colleges, which fall under the government- employment category.
Precisely where the education-industry job losses are coming from and whether they are permanent is unclear, according to state officials, who say there’s a chance the May figures could still be an aberration.
At the state’s private colleges and universities, which make up the largest piece of the private-education sector and have been growing slowly and steadily over the past 20 years, public discussions have focused on expansion, not layoffs.
“Our sense is this is not a part of trend,” said Daniel P. Egan, president of the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities of Rhode Island about the job numbers. “Prior to the recession, we were one of the only growth sectors, with pretty dramatic growth. That leveled off and there were some reductions in staff, mostly through advanced retirement and attrition, in response economic conditions.”
After seeing the May numbers, Egan reached out to member schools to find out what was going on, but none reported large cuts and could only provide theories for where the reductions had come from.