Facing declining enrollments, RIC is sticking with plans

Facing declining enrollments, RIC is sticking with plans

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island College is down about 200 deposits for this time of year, marking a continued decline in enrollments at the college located on the Providence/North Providence line.

And though it’s still a bit early to be comparing those 976 deposits to the five-year average of 1,182 deposits, staff say, there’s no doubt that the college needs to take steps toward bringing in more students.

“It is still early to make a definite determination because it will likely improve, but we are currently seeing a decline in undergrad enrollments,” said Kristy dosReis, associate director of communications for the college’s office of the president.

RIC is not stepping back from its 10-year plan for facility improvements, said dosReis, focusing instead on both modernizing the campus to recruit new students and improving the campus experience. Leaders are “100 percent focused on enrollments,” and implementing many strategies to address them, she said.

In May, the Rhode Island College Student Parliament voted to send a resolution expressing concerns about Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Rhode Island Promise program to state leaders. That program offers a free education to graduating Rhode Island high school students at the Community College of Rhode Island as long as they meet certain requirements. The impact of the program has led to concern among many that the plan is drawing away from Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island.

“RIC student leaders are deeply concerned that RI Promise has had a negative impact on campus life, enrollment, and the financial stability of RIC and the students that go here,” said RIC Student Body President Thomas Lima in the spring. “RIC’s student government passed this resolution because it appears that the welfare of RIC students is not part of the conversation in Rhode Island. As the state considers finalizing its budget, we are concerned about continued tuition increases amidst declining state support for RIC, all while limited state funds that could be used to offset those increases are diverted to other priorities, including RI Promise.”

Raimondo has said she still wants to see her full original plan move forward, offering free tuition for specified years of schooling at all three state colleges.

The Breeze reported in April that the North Providence Planning Board had accepted a 10-year master plan from RIC.

That blueprint for the next decade of change and growth described many improvements already made at the campus, and discussed further upgrades, including improved vehicle and pedestrian circulation, a new student success center, changes to athletic facilities, new parking, and expansion of two academic buildings, among others.

“Our master plan remains on track,” said dosReis. “Modernizing our facilities and creating an attractive and functional campus is a must.”

The school has seen declining enrollments for the better part of a decade, so increasing enrollments, and improving student retention, is a top goal, she said.

“The Promise is certainly a piece of that puzzle, but enrollments have been down long before last year,” dosReis said.

“Interestingly, our graduate enrollment is up significantly since we have made additional investments in scholarships for these students,” she added.

The following are some of the recent steps the school has taken to be proactive in the face of declining student population:

• In the 2017-2018 school year, staff began a marketing program with targeted outreach to returning students and enacted a strategy to identify, target, and re-enroll recently withdrawn (stopped-out) students. 

• The school implemented a series of levers to retain current students through personalized and direct interventions and a targeted registration campaign.

• The school refined its approach to holds, taking the initiative to communicate with students who had any academic or financial holds weekly via email, phone calls, and postcard reminders a month prior to the recruitment cycle. 

• This year, RIC is embarking on a branding/identity campaign and a complete overhaul of its web site, primarily focused on enrollment.

One strategy the school has employed since Rhode Island Promise began last year is to work closely with CCRI to develop seamless pathways for majors to easily transfer to RIC to complete a four-year degree, said dosReis.

“We are hoping many of the Promise students end up at RIC in 2019 and beyond,” she said.