Watch Executive Suite: URI President David Dooley

September 16th, 2013 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

RI Student Loan Authority may reduce payments for startups

August 15th, 2013 at 11:09 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Ruth Simon reports for The Wall Street Journal:

The rising mountain of student debt, recently closing in on $1.2 trillion, is forcing some entrepreneurs to abandon startup dreams and others … to radically reshape their business plans. [...]

At least one state has taken steps to alleviate the pressures. California this year enacted legislation that will reduce college costs for middle-class Californians who attend its public universities.

Similarly, the Rhode Island Student Loan Authority, a quasigovernmental nonprofit group, is looking at whether it is feasible to temporarily forbear or reduce payments for recent graduates who start a businesses or go to work for a new venture. The aim is to give recent graduates “the opportunity to try working for a startup or creating a startup instead of having to run off to Arizona and start working for Intel,” says Charles P. Kelley, RISLA executive director.

The R.I. Student Loan Authority (RISLA) is one of Rhode Island’s two quasi-public agencies that deal with student loans, along with the R.I. Higher Education Assistance Authority (RIHEAA). RISLA issues bonds to provide direct financing to students, while RIHEAA guaranteed loans under the pre-2010 federal student-loan program. Charles Kelley leads both agencies, and Treasurer Gina Raimondo serves on both boards.

As of June 2012, RISLA had $566 million in outstanding bonds and $913 million in outstanding student loans.

Update: For a critique of the WSJ article’s premise, read Jordan Weissmann on

Mancuso résumé lacks experience of most US college leaders

July 19th, 2013 at 1:11 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Dan McGowan

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s controversial nominee to oversee Rhode Island’s public colleges is defending her qualifications for the high-profile job despite lacking the same background in education as most of her would-be peers nationally.

A analysis of the résumés of every higher education commissioner – or equivalent official – across the country shows the majority of officials at the helm in their respective states have spent most of their careers in the education field.

Read the rest of this story »

• Related: Watch Newsmakers with RI Education Board Chairwoman Eva Marie Mancuso (April 7)

Morse: Why arming RI campus police shouldn’t be a taboo

May 30th, 2013 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

By Carroll Andrew Morse

c_andrew_morseThe question of whether to arm campus police officers at Rhode Island’s public colleges and universities, though seemingly a minor chapter in the overall debate about firearms in America, offers unique insight into why issues surrounding guns are so contentious. To quote Dan Kahan, Donald Braman and John Gastil – a trio of professors involved with Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition Project who have studied how gun matters are contested in public – the debate is intense because the issues at stake are as broad as “preferred ways of organizing, perceiving and justifying social relations.”

The view of Kahan and his colleagues has its roots in cultural anthropology (*), specifically in work started in the latter half of the twentieth century by the British anthropologist Mary Douglas. Douglas sought to identify common principles that could be applied to the analysis of any human society, “primitive” or “modern.” Amongst the concepts she found to be fundamental were that all societies relied on symbols and taboos for communicating intangible ideas to one another, implying that the study of ideas could not be fully separated from the study of their symbolic representations; and that humans everywhere focused on “on moral and political weaknesses they expect will escalate the damage” from dangers they faced, as much as they focused on dangers themselves, causing public debates about potential threats to “link some real danger to some disapproved behavior.”

Real dangers and disapproved behaviors, and moral and political weaknesses are certainly all factors in the debate over arming campus police officers – which is another way of saying that what guns symbolize in this debate is as important as guns themselves.

* * *


Student fees at URI soared 140% in 10 years; state aid fell 31%

March 18th, 2013 at 2:57 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

An announcement this morning was probably welcome news for students at the University of Rhode Island: the college is freezing tuition for the 2013-14 school year, keeping the cost at $10,878 for in-state residents and $26,444 for out-of-staters. The decision is a victory for Governor Chafee, who’s proposed a $6 million increase in funding for state colleges but asked their presidents to freeze tuition as the quid pro quo.

URI’s financial documents show the school is taking much more money from students than it was a decade ago – $140 million more annually as of 2012. State lawmakers often get blamed for that, which has some validity: the state’s appropriation to URI has dropped by $26 million over the same period. Put another way, taxpayer dollars matched 84% of URI’s net student fees in 2002 but only 24% in 2012. Here’s a chart:


That said, it’s not an open-and-shut case that the General Assembly is totally to blame for the skyrocketing cost of attending URI – the increase in net student fees is more than five times larger than the decrease in the state appropriation, and the largest year-over-year hike was actually back in 2004, when net revenue from student fees jumped 17% even as the taxpayer subsidy stayed basically flat.

Update: A reader points out that the direct state appropriation to URI doesn’t reflect the university’s entire taxpayer subsidy because it excludes Rhode Island Capital Plan Funds and state-contributed capital. With those included, the state’s total appropriation to URI fell from $108 million in 2002 to $93 million in 2012, for a smaller cut of 14%, according to the school’s annual audits.

• Related: RI higher-ed funding #42 in US (Jan. 23) | 44% from RI at URI, RIC; 2nd-lowest (Oct. 20, 2011)

RI student loan debt 4th-highest in US; Salve tops the list

February 7th, 2013 at 10:00 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

By Ted Nesi and Tim White

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – David Greco was born and raised in Rhode Island and says he’d like to stay, but he’s planning to leave when he finishes law school this year – because he and his fiancée can’t find jobs that will allow to pay off roughly $400,000 in student loan debt.

More than two-thirds of graduates who received a diploma in Rhode Island in 2011 owed money when they were done, and their average debt of $29,097 was fourth-highest in the country. A Target 12 analysis of Southern New England schools reveals Salve Regina University saddled borrowers with the most debt.

Read the rest of this story »

• Interactive: Average student debt at colleges in R.I., Southern Mass. (Feb. 7)

RI’s 11 colleges get $200K to help leaders research economy

January 15th, 2013 at 3:15 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

​By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s 11 colleges and universities are combining forces to launch a new research group that will help state leaders understand what ails the local economy and what could help fix it.

The new College and University Research Collaborative was announced Tuesday by Gov. Lincoln Chafee during a news conference at the State House where he was joined by representatives from the schools and the president of the Rhode Island Foundation.

Chafee said the state benefits from having so many institutions of higher education within its borders. “We’ve very lucky in Rhode Island,” he said.

The private Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council think tank recommended that Chafee create an independent research group in its report on economic development, commissioned after the collapse of 38 Studios. It was also urged by participants at the foundation’s Make It Happen RI event last fall.

“All of them collaborating on research, on information, on data that can be shared and used objectively by policymakers is not only groundbreaking but could be a national model,” said Neil Steinberg, the foundation’s president and CEO.

The collaborative will be made up of a leadership team, a panel of policymakers from the governor’s office and the General Assembly, research fellows and administrative support staff, according to an outline released Tuesday by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island (AICU), which will oversee the collaborative.

The policy panel is expected to come up with a few major questions that Rhode Island officials need more information about, and then the research collaborative will find faculty members and other experts who can provide answers. The first project may be under way by March, AICU Rhode Island President Daniel Egan said.

“We think that having the colleges and universities use our faculty … to answer these questions will be profoundly important,” said former Congressman Ron Machtley, who is now president of Bryant University.

The research group has a $200,000 budget for its first year as a pilot program, with half the funding coming from the quasi-public R.I. Economic Development Corporation and the other half from the Rhode Island Foundation. Organizers said they hope to secure additional funding for a second year, and public forums will be held to coincide with major reports.

Also on hand for Tuesday’s announcement of the research collaborative was Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, who has clashed with Chafee in the past. But when a reporter asked whether they see each other as rivals or competitors, the pair jokingly put their arms around each other in front of the podium.

“We talked last week, we talked at The [Providence] Journal, and 90% of what we’re saying is the same thing,” Paiva Weed said. “I’m committed to working with the governor on behalf of the Senate.”

Chafee echoed her sentiments. “If you’re going to go forward, you’re better off with everybody pulling on the oars together, and sometimes it takes work,” the governor said. “It’s very, very important as we go forward with growing our economy that we work at working together.”

Paiva Weed, Steinberg and a number of reporters came downstairs to the 11 a.m. press conference with the colleges after attending an earlier one in the Senate lounge, where the Senate president released her own report and pledged to work on the economy. Steinberg said the timing was a good sign.

“If somebody told me a year ago we’d be going to two positive economic development-oriented press conferences in this building this morning, we’d all have kind of looked sideways,” he said. “Well, it’s happening and it’s provided by leadership.”

“We’re not as bad as any of the rankings say we are,” Steinberg added. “We know that. We just need to prove it.”

There will be more economic policy announcements in Rhode Island as the week goes on. Chafee is scheduled to release his proposed 2013-14 budget and make his annual State of the State speech on Wednesday night, and the House of Representatives will hold its own economic summit at Rhode Island College on Thursday.

Ted Nesi ( ) covers politics and the economy for and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

• Related: Two must-read articles about economic development and RI (Jan. 15)

Watch Executive Suite: RI startup Care Thread; Sawyer School

January 14th, 2013 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Neumont U. drops effort to open new RI campus; will try Mass.

April 5th, 2012 at 7:26 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Ned Levine

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Neumont University has given up on getting a green light from Rhode Island lawmakers to open a second campus here and will instead seek approval to set up shop in Massachusetts.

“Unfortunately, the support and advocacy of visionary Rhode Islanders could not overcome the inertia of state and city government,” Ned Levine, president of the for-profit school, wrote Thursday in a letter [pdf] obtained by

Levine has spent months seeking approval for a Providence Neumont campus. Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras both played crucial roles in stymying his proposal, which had the backing of key legislative leaders including the House and Senate majority leaders, he said.

“The governor’s office was distinctly unsupportive,” Levine wrote. “Mayor Taveras was surprisingly firm in his refusal to actively support Neumont’s plan to create jobs and tax revenue in Providence – even as the city verges on bankruptcy.”

Spokesmen for Chafee and Taveras were not immediately available after business hours. Levine said Neumont plans “to build our Northeast campus in another state, likely in Massachusetts where our welcome has been overt and broadly based.”

Rhode Island is the only state in the nation that requires for-profit colleges to pass a special law authorizing them to operate, after which the school would need to win approval from the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education. No special law is needed in Massachusetts, where Neumont’s application would go directly to the Mass. Board of Higher Education.

• Related: RI roadblock has Neumont U. chief eyeing Mass. as alternative (March 12)

(photo: Neumont University)

RI roadblock has Neumont U. chief eyeing Mass. as alternative

March 12th, 2012 at 6:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Ned Levine

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The head of Neumont University, the Utah-based for-profit school seeking a green light from lawmakers to open its second campus in Rhode Island, met with officials in Boston last week to review his options there amid uncertainty about whether the General Assembly will act.

“Rhode Island is our preferred home,” Ned Levine, Neumont’s president, told on Friday. “But we need a New England campus. There’s a market and there’s demand among employers in the Northeast, and therefore that’s attractive to students.”

Rhode Island is the only state in the nation that requires for-profit colleges to pass a special law authorizing them to operate, after which the school would need to win approval from the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education. No special law is needed in Massachusetts, where Neumont’s application would go directly to the Mass. Board of Higher Education.

“We have to be in the Northeast,” Levine said. ”We hope it’s Rhode Island, but it will be some place.” The college would lease space rather than build if it wins approval, he said.


Thumbs-up for RI study on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants

December 8th, 2011 at 6:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

By Claire Peracchio

A leading Rhode Island political scientist has vouched for the quality of the only comprehensive study to assess the effects of allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges, calling it an “accurate and honest” effort.

Tony Affigne, a political science professor at Providence College and Latino studies scholar, evaluated the Latino Policy Institute study [pdf] at the request of Affigne said he focused on three criteria: the research underlying the study’s conclusions, the study’s interpretation of that research, and evidence of bias. On all three counts, Affigne said, the study passed with flying colors.

(Affigne, also a visiting ethnic studies professor at Brown University, holds a degree in public administration from the University of Rhode Island, one of the schools that will be affected by the recent Board of Governors for Higher Education decision.)

While a critical observer might assume the Latino Policy Institute would favor expanding access to in-state tuition and that this preference could introduce a bias, the study’s methodology did not seem to reflect this. “Although they may personally favor in-state tuition, that opinion does not appear to have biased or distorted their conclusions,” he said.


Once upon a time, you could attend Brown U. for $75 a year

August 10th, 2011 at 9:55 am by under Nesi's Notes

That’s according to this timeline of college tuition prices from the website Best Colleges Online:

1870: Tuition at Harvard was a mere $150 per year.

For half that, just $75, students could attend Brown University for a year. While a pittance today, this was still a fair amount of money at the time (about $3,000 in today’s dollars), and many lower class families would never be able to afford college without scholarship support.

Brown charged $39,928 for tuition this past year – though most undergraduates receive financial aid.

Brown U. is No. 21 on Forbes’ list of America’s Best Colleges

August 4th, 2011 at 1:50 pm by under Nesi's Notes

Everyone’s loves a good list, so here’s one passed along by a colleague: Brown University is No. 21 on Forbes magazine’s annual ranking of America’s best colleges. It placed fourth-highest among the eight Ivies.

Further down the list are Providence College (#156), the University of Rhode Island (#375), Roger Williams University (#477), Johnson & Wales University (#542) and Rhode Island College (#571).

The list is prepared for Forbes the Center for College Affordability and Productivity in Washington, D.C. Here’s how the group comes up with its rankings:

The rankings are based on five general categories: Post Graduate success (30%), which evaluates alumni pay and prominence, Student Satisfaction (27.5%), which includes professor evaluations and freshman to sophomore year retention rates, Debt (17.5%), which penalizes schools for high student debt loads and default rates, Four Year Graduation Rate (17.5%) and Competitive Awards (7.5%), which rewards schools whose students win prestigious scholarships and fellowships like the Rhodes, the Marshall and the Fulbright.

Update: Rankings, rankings everywhere – Providence College’s new spokesman, Steve Maurano, writes in to say his school has been named a “Best Buy” for 2011 by the Fiske Report, which is widely used by guidance counselors.

One year at Brown costs the same as almost 6 years at RIC

June 9th, 2011 at 12:08 pm by under Nesi's Notes

If you want a good deal on a college education in Rhode Island, go to RIC.

U.S. News & World Report is out with a new look at the cost of a bachelor’s degree at the nation’s institutions of higher education, and it offers more evidence of the jaw-dropping sticker price for tuition and fees these days.

Whether you’re an in-state or out-of-state student, Rhode Island College offers the cheapest route to a BA around here. In fact, an in-state student could spend nearly six years studying at RIC for the same amount of money it would cost for one year at Brown University.

The figures also show one way the University of Rhode Island is dealing with deep cuts in taxpayer support – hiking the price of admission for students from outside the state. It’s more expensive for a non-Rhode Islander to attend URI than the private Johnson & Wales, according to U.S. News.

Here’s how much tuition and fees will set you back this academic year at Rhode Island’s nine four-year schools:

  • Brown: $40,820
  • RISD: $38,295
  • PC: $34,435
  • Bryant: $33,357
  • Salve: $31,450
  • RWU: $29,718
  • URI (out): $27,182
  • JWU: $24,141
  • RIC (out): $16,878
  • URI (in): $10,476
  • RIC (in): $6,986

Of course, none of that says anything about the actual value of a college degree. News stories “always focus on an over-educated bartender, and they are always wrong,” Education Sector’s Kevin Carey argues in The New Republic.

(photo: Rhode Island College)

Providence hospitals don’t pay city like colleges do

March 14th, 2011 at 4:04 pm by under General Talk

The colleges and hospitals in Providence get lumped together a lot. (I know I do it.) Often that makes sense – they’re two sets of powerful, wealthy, not-for-profit institutions whose presences are felt throughout the city.

But in other ways, they’re different – and Mike Stanton’s terrific Projo profile of Mayor Angel Taveras offers me an opportunity to point out a key distinction of which I’m not sure many people are aware (emphasis mine):

Taveras says talks have intensified with the city’s nonprofit hospitals and universities about contributing more ….

Another test will be his efforts to collect more from the city’s nonprofit hospitals and universities. Taveras says he must balance the city’s financial plight with the role that those institutions play in helping the city and state develop a “knowledge economy” in the old Jewelry District and on the downtown land freed up by the Route 195 relocation. …

Brown president Ruth Simmons says that charging nonprofits, such as Brown … could force the university to lay off employees, while overlooking Brown’s value to the city as an economic engine.

Still, she praises the new mayor’s intelligence and toughness, says that his decisions seem based on facts, not politics, and welcomes “a fact-driven discussion.”

Here’s the thing: The Cicilline administration’s 2003 deal to get $50 million in voluntary payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) over the next 20 years only included the four private colleges. The schools also pay taxes on some non-exempt properties and reimburse the city for police and fire services. The three types of direct payments totaled $7.9 million in 2009-10, according to their association.

By contrast, the big hospitals – Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam, both owned by Lifespan; Women & Infants and Butler, owned by Care New England; and Roger Williams Medical Center, now owned by CharterCARE – don’t have any PILOT agreement with the city, and thus don’t make any direct contribution to its budget.

“There are no formal payments,” Amanda Barney, a spokeswoman for the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, told me. ”It’s all in the form of the benefit that [the hospitals] provide to the community through employment, uncompensated care and those sorts of things.” Of course, the colleges point out that they provide indirect benefits of their own.

I raise this because lumping the universities and the hospitals together doesn’t seem particularly fair to the schools or particularly helpful as the city grapples with its financial crisis.

In this case, Brown President Ruth Simmons is standing in for all the nonprofits – but she did agree to the 2003 deal, which the hospital executives haven’t done.

What, for instance, does Lifespan CEO George Vecchione think should happen? He made an astonishing $9.3 million in 2009 - an amount equal to one-third of Providence’s $29 million budget deficit this year. (Simmons earned a comparatively paltry $884,771, IRS filings show.)

On a less populist note, the final report [pdf] released last fall by the Providence City Council’s Commission to Study Tax-Exempt Institutions estimated a gap of up to $6.2 million between the city’s revenue from tax-exempts and the cost of providing services to those organizations. Vecchione could cover that and still keep $3.1 million.

The commission offered Providence a range of suggestions, including pushing the General Assembly to appropriate more PILOT reimbursement money or using Boston’s model, which allows nonprofits to itemize the services it provides the community to show how it makes up for part of the foregone property-tax revenue. It also suggested negotiating a PILOT payment with the hospitals mirroring the one with the universities.

For the record, the report found the nine “major tax-exempt institutions now own 15% of the land within the city (23% of all non-public land),” with an assessed value of $3.1 billion. It also included this neat map comparing the footprint of tax-exempt properties in 1985 and 2005:

(map: Providence City Council)