Photo Credit: Bill Bartholomew

Governor McKee Announces Higher Ed Academy Proposal to Accelerate Postsecondary Enrollment, Drive Job Growth

In his State of the State Tuesday night, Governor Dan McKee announced an exciting proposal to create a Rhode Island Higher Ed Academy, a new initiative to help Rhode Islanders pursue postsecondary education and training that leads to good-paying jobs and puts the state on a path to long-term economic recovery. The proposal, included in the Governor’s FY 2023 budget, is expected to support over 1,000 Rhode Islanders in gaining the skills needed to earn a credential or degree, while widening the talent pool that employers need to recruit staff and make their businesses successful.

“In our RI 2030 plan, we pledged to build a dynamic and integrated workforce development and postsecondary education system that drives job creation, economic growth, and innovation over the long term. The Higher Ed Academy is the type of innovative and forward-thinking program we need to help us meet our goal,” said Governor McKee. “We must meet Rhode Islanders where they are, and help give them the personalized, hands-on help they need to earn their credentials from our colleges and universities. The Academy will help our state get more people back into the workforce in jobs that will not only earn them living wages, but jobs that put them at the ground floor of careers. I am thrilled to partner with Commissioner Gilkey on this initiative that will deliver a brighter future for all Rhode Islanders.”

“We’ve heard the message loud and clear from Rhode Island working families: if Rhode Island wants to be a local leader of job creation and 21st century economic growth then give us the skills and tools necessary to help us get there,” said Lt. Governor Sabina Matos. “The Higher Ed Academy provides a suite of wraparound services and supports to help equip Rhode Islanders with the knowledge and experiences necessary to be successful in today’s job market. This is especially important for urban communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The only way to rebound out of this economic slump is by having the workers lead the way.”

The Academy, which would be administered by the Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner (RIOPC), will be a statewide effort to support Rhode Islanders who, due to the pandemic, have not yet entered the higher education system, or were not able to complete their postsecondary education.

“Data from this pandemic and the 2008 recession show that people without postsecondary credentials are more likely to be economically impacted than those who do,” said Dr. Shannon Gilkey, Commissioner on Postsecondary Education. “Their underrepresentation in living wage jobs robs them of opportunities they deserve, and robs all of us from diverse, representative workplaces. With this Academy, the state can help Rhode Islanders who delayed going on to postsecondary, left before completion, want to earn a credential, or who are reconsidering their careers because of the pandemic, achieve their goals.”

The program will apply funding from the American Rescue Plan Act’s State Fiscal Recovery Fund and target low-income communities (identified as Qualified Census Tracts), as well as individuals who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. This includes, but is not limited to, recent high school graduates who delayed enrolling in colleges, adults who lost their jobs during the pandemic, or who realized during the pandemic disruption to the workforce that their part-time job(s) do not provide enough wages to support living in Rhode Island.

A degree or credential is essential for nearly 70 percent of jobs created since 2008, and nearly half of the adult population in Rhode Island lack the degrees or credentials needed to enter the workforce in well-paying, sustainable jobs. Low-income individuals and Black, indigenous, and persons of color are disproportionately represented in that figure. In recruiting under-employed and unemployed individuals, the Higher Ed Academy will be well-positioned to directly address systemic inequalities. Further, employers who do not have access to credentialed workers cannot overcome their pandemic losses and position their businesses for growth.

The Higher Ed Academy will be hosted by the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner partnering with colleges, universities, K-12 schools, employers, local leaders, nonprofits, and human services agencies. Using experts in government, business, industry and education, the Academy will ensure Rhode Islanders have access to the services they need to succeed, including credit counseling, assistance filling out forms, and course refreshers that will fast-track students toward completion.

The Higher Ed Academy will deliver programming (4-8 weeks) that will help students become ready to enroll in credit-bearing course work. Administered by RIOPC in partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Education and Department of Labor and Training, the Academy will include navigation support, wrap-around services, and advising to put enrollees on a pathway to complete degrees and credentials valued by local employers in growth sectors like defense, healthcare, and IT.

Any Rhode Islander 18 and older who wishes to participate should contact the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner. Eligibility for the program, based on federal ARP requirements, will be open to individuals who live in Qualified Census Tract who lack a postsecondary degree or credential and who have been adversely impacted by the pandemic.

Assuming full funding is secured, the Academy expects to begin recruitment immediately and offer the first program in the summer of 2022.



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