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Community College of Rhode Island

President presents State of the College 2010 report

Professional Development Day remarks by President Ray Di Pasquale
April 16, 2010

CCRI President Meghan HughesGood morning and welcome to CCRI’s 8th annual Professional Development Day!

Today is a special day we’ve set aside to honor you for what you have contributed to this fine institution. I know that times are difficult and we are all struggling with the fallout from the economic downturn. Add to that the hardships felt by so many in our community as a result of the historic floods.

However, there has always been a special resilience of our people that enables them to recover quickly from difficult events and to move forward. That is certainly the case here, and shortly I will touch on the many positives that are under way in our college as well as recognize those members of our community who have given a substantial part of their professional lives to CCRI.

But I also want to focus a little bit on the primary reason why we are here today. And that, of course, is our students.

We have such culturally rich, multi-talented and diverse students, and several of them are with us today. I will introduce them shortly and tell you a little bit about their accomplishments.

Thank you, faculty and staff

As a result of the extraordinary work and commitment of our faculty and staff during one of the most difficult economic times in decades, our college has made amazing progress. Despite budget cuts, hiring freezes, salary cuts, the elimination of funds to maintain our facilities, increased tuition and fees, we have continued to enhance students’ abilities and to improve their lives.

At the end of the day, I know that the real measure of our success is in the excellence of the work that occurs every day, in the classroom and in the support services that are provided to students to help them change their lives and achieve their dreams. This is what we have committed ourselves to do.

As I said back in September, the right “attitude” will get us through this. We cannot help ourselves, or succeed in our work, by simply standing by and complaining. We need to create opportunities for our students and our college, especially in this time of challenge. And you have done that as evidenced by our many successes.

State of the college presentation

Let me begin by thanking everyone who helped plan and organize All College Week. It truly was an exciting week and attracted attention throughout the state.

As you know, I have been spending part of my time serving as commissioner of higher education for Rhode Island and it has been an exhilarating experience. We have a wonderful team of college presidents and staff at the Office of Higher Education, as well as an outstanding Board of Governors. Working together, we are making great progress. For example:

We have proposed to the General Assembly putting a proposal for a new $60 million nursing sciences building before the voters as part of a higher education bond package in November. This new facility would be shared by the nursing programs at the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College. If this moves forward, we will save taxpayers at least $20 million, as we estimate that two new nursing buildings at the URI and RIC campuses would have cost about $80 million.

I have worked closely with URI and RIC, with OHE and with the Department of Administration in trying to solve our long-standing purchasing issues. We now have an agreement in place that calls for specific staff at DOA who are dedicated to reviewing and processing purchasing requests for higher education. I expect this new arrangement will help all three of our institutions be able to get their purchasing requests processed in a much more timely and efficient manner than has been the case for the last few years.

With the recommendation and support of the Board of Governors and OHE, Governor Carcieri has committed Rhode Island to be one of 17 states nationally that have signed on to a new initiative called "Complete College America." This initiative is aimed at helping states focus their efforts to increase not only the number of people enrolling in college, but more importantly, the number who persist and complete their degree programs.

We are also working to develop a new initiative known as "Bachelor's Degree in Three." This effort, spurred by legislation that passed the Assembly last year, will help high school students earn college credits while they are still enrolled in high school. The idea is for them to be ready for their college years with as many as 15 to 18 college credits already in hand by the time they graduate from high school. We plan to implement the program by September of 2011.

My thanks to everyone at OHE for their support.

Two years ago, I stood before you and suggested that we faced a difficult road ahead. In fact, the title of my presentation then was “weathering the storm.”

The images showed a small boat in trouble in 40 foot seas, and I promised two years ago to be steady at the helm and to assist wherever I could to help the crew and boat survive without too much damage. Little did I know that we were about to embark on the worst economic downturn since the great depression.

Today, despite the state’s continuing economic woes, we have indeed “weathered” the storm and, in fact, the rough waters have subsided. Well, that might be stretching it a bit, but we have come a long way over the last couple of years.

Sound budgeting, new projects

Thanks to sound budgeting and management practices, and extraordinary growth in enrollment, we recently announced that we are committing funds to long-overdue projects. Please remember that this is one-time only funding and can only be used between now and June 30.

Among the projects funded was $220,000 to Academic Affairs for much-needed equipment purchases including microscopes, telescopes, desks, digital cameras, slab rollers, storage cabinets and massage tables.

More than $300,000 was applied to improvements identified by the Learning Spaces Committee and the startup of the new Center for Innovative Teaching, Learning and Assessment.

There are investments being made in hardware, software and furniture coming from student technology fee funds.

Across the college community, we are investing in filling some long vacant positions that will directly impact our students in a positive manner.

Work is progressing on the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning project at the Lincoln campus. The state approved a total of $3.7 million in Rhode Island Capital Asset Protection funds to upgrade the system. The work and the funding will continue through 2011.

Additionally, the economic environment has driven down the cost of replacing some of the roofs on our facilities and we will begin a program of roof replacement at the Lincoln campus.

We are very lucky and unlike other colleges nationwide, we have not had one layoff, we are hiring well-trained people for critical positions, we are starting new programs and, as you’ve seen, we are enrolling talented students.

To see how far we’ve come, just five years ago, the state appropriation for our college amounted to about 58 percent of our budget with student fees and tuition and other college revenue accounting for about 42 percent of the budget.

Today, the state appropriation is down substantially and accounts for about 45 percent of our budget. 55 percent comes from other college revenues, including tuition and fees from students.

Clearly, the increases are being severely felt by our students.

As I’ve said numerous times, we are more reliant on tuition and fee revenue now than at any time in our history and this is causing me great anxiety for the future.

Looking to the future

In a recent report, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, projected that nationally, Rhode Island will see the most dramatic decline in high school graduates through the 2018-2019 academic year. They are projecting a 21 percent drop in the number of public high school graduates.

To counter this, we need to plan for the future by being more proactive in expanding our recruitment efforts in high schools, looking internationally for students, or perhaps even looking at downsizing the college to adjust to the declining high school graduation rates.

Last July, national attention was focused on community colleges as President Obama publicly announced the American Graduation Initiative that was intended to pump $12 billion into community colleges and add 5 million new graduates by 2020.

However, that changed dramatically in the last several days as the president signed legislation overhauling the federal student loan program.

The law, a centerpiece of the President’s education agenda, strips banks of their role as middlemen in the loan business and puts the government in charge, saving an estimated $61 million over 10 years.

But because the projected savings from axing the bank subsidies were less than anticipated, community colleges instead will only get $2 billion for job training alone.

So, as usual, community colleges will do what they’ve always done … more with less.

New successes

I am extremely pleased to report that the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $745,841to the Community College of Rhode Island to develop and implement a new Energy Utility Technology certificate at the college. This new certificate will be articulated with a redesigned Engineering Systems Technology associate degree to provide a qualified entry-level work force in the greening of the electrical power sector.

The project is one of 54 smart grid workforce training programs for which the Department of Energy has provided nearly $100 million in funding to help prepare the next generation of workers in the utility and electrical manufacturing industries. U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said these projects will leverage more than $95 million in funding from community colleges, universities, utilities and manufacturers to develop and implement training programs. The selectees estimate that the programs will train approximately 30,000 Americans to help to modernize the nation's electrical grid and implement smart grid technologies in communities across the country.

I also want to report that the college’s Department of Human Services was recently awarded a $240,000 continuation grant from the RI Department of Human Services for the Early Childhood Specialist program. This program enrolls approximately 60 currently employed child care workers and provides 18 credit hours of early childhood education courses, educational support, and mentoring. When the students finish their program, they receive wage increases from the centers that employ them. The program is run out of the Liston campus and has a waiting list.

The Imagine capital campaign has passed the $4 million mark! As you know, the Knight Campus Library and the dental health labs at the Flanagan Campus were renovated over the summer as a result of these funds. We are now turning our attention to modernizing the theatre space with better sound, seating and a whole new look.

During my convocation speech in September I mentioned the college has embarked upon Foundations of Excellence, an initiative intended to help us evaluate how we serve students in their first year. Throughout this academic year more than 125 faculty, staff, administrators and students have participated in committees and discussion groups examining various aspects of how our students experience their first year here.

We have made great progress to date. During the fall semester, 485 of you responded to the electronic survey that was distributed to faculty/staff and a whopping 1,263 students responded to the student survey. These surveys have given us a great deal of valuable information about our processes that have, in turn, informed the committee discussions. A report from the FoE Steering Committee is due in June and the recommendations will be reviewed by the President’s council later this summer.

Alicia Lyon, chair of the English department, has been working with a group of dedicated faculty and staff to bring a One Book, or common reading project, to CCRI. The goal of this project is to engage the entire college community in reading the same book and participating in related activities and discussion groups throughout the academic year. Soon the committee will be sending out a ballot asking you to vote on the book selection that you think will be of greatest interest and will also lend itself to guest speakers and other activities.

For those of you who have been in the library recently, you may have seen the new READ posters featuring our own CCRI celebrities. These posters are fashioned after the highly popular READ series introduced several years ago by the American Library Association featuring authors, actors, athletes and other celebrities photographed reading their favorite books. The intent, of course, is to catch your eye and encourage you to read. Periodically, you’ll be seeing new posters with a variety of recognizable CCRI faculty and staff. The posters have been photographed and produced by Dave Fischbach from the Marketing and Communications Department.

Many of you participated in the first round of interviews for one of the candidates for the dean of Institutional Advancement position. Thank you for taking the opportunity to meet these candidates and to comment on them as this is an extremely important position as we need to uncover new funding sources for the future.

Kate Dunnigan, chair of the search for the dean of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences, reports that the search committee is talking to six candidates, three of whom they will recommend as finalists. Each of the candidates will be invited to the college for interviews and visits with faculty, staff and students during the last two weeks of this month and into the first week of May.

Employee recognition

At the end of the month, we will honor a number of faculty and staff from throughout the college who have dedicated themselves over a long period of time to the mission of CCRI. I thought it would be nice to acknowledge them today for their many years of service and for the contributions they have made that will continue long into the future. We honor you for sharing your knowledge and helping thousands of students, for sharing the joy of learning, for your dedication to getting the job done, for caring about your fellow employee and for your commitment to CCRI.

Honorees include:

  • Anthony DiRuzzo - 45 years
  • Ed Madonna – 44 years
  • Rosemary Prisco – 44 years
  • Althea Allard – 43 years
  • Gerard Brousseau – 43 years
  • Lela Morgan – 43 years
  • John Rapczak – 43 years
  • Millie Blessing – 42 years
  • Fred Colonies – 42 years
  • Don Paquet – 42 years
  • Randy Blessing – 41 years
  • Dick Cardin – 41 years
  • Sandra Johnson – 41 years
  • Mark Kundig – 41 years
  • Jackie Laxon – 41 years
  • Pat Mannix – 41 years
  • Marjorie Norquist – 41 years
  • Ellen Willard – 41 years

We have nearly 40 other employees who have completed 35 to 40 years of service with the college. Here is an amazing number. This group of 57 employees has given 2,240 years of service to CCRI.

Closing remarks

In closing my presentation today, I want to thank you once again for your commitment to this college. In my four years here, on every campus, I have found a cadre of individuals who care about CCRI, have a deep devotion to students and student success and who care about their profession.

Everyone is doing their best to achieve the goals of this college, and it is often done in a team setting.

Is this a difficult time? Yes, it is. Are people suffering in our state? Yes they are. Can we do something about it? Yes, we can.

If we follow our mission of changing lives, if students are committed to active learning, if faculty remain committed to bringing out the best in their students, if professional staff believe in the impact they have on the institutional mission, and if facilities’ personnel continue to take great pride in the operations and appearance of our campuses, then we will continue to make a positive and long-lasting impact on our state and its residents.

Thank you.

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Last Updated: 8/2/16