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Guest MINDSETTER™ Forleo: CCRI About to Undergo Political Takeover

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


The Community College of Rhode Island is about to undergo a political takeover.

This nationwide capitalist coup of higher education appears poised to dismantle rightful CCRI faculty governance, while empowering outside billion dollar foundations more in-state influence driving highly contentious outcome-based, pie-in-the-sky workforce training. Pending legislation S0603 and H7428 up for eventual vote will support the bureaucratic control of this college using performance-based measures as an incentive for increased funding, while at the same time possibly increasing the administrative bloat to count the numbers.

Since 1964, CCRI has been rooted in high quality, low cost education for so many generations of student learners. The actual vision of the “people’s” college was forged to highlight CCRI as a gateway to lifelong learning through a broad field of study, and for developing our region’s workforce. 

Now, however, the vocational route some RI politicians are directing toward CCRI focuses on graduation rates, student-success outcomes, certificates, and job placement.  If this community college initiative isinstalled, the cherished academic critical thinking component can be replaced by industry-driven measurable outcomes, thus provoking the weakening of academic standards, potential loss of intellectual curiosity, and usher in wholesale grade inflation.

Most national studies in performance funding and the highly prized vocational training conclude that top-down, politically driven agendas will only create institutional pushback, decrease staff morale, and alienate the primary stakeholders needed to implement any standard(s) of measurement in any meaningful way. 

The proponents of such a myopic hollowing-out of community college academics should look introspectively to understand that any community college nudged into such a takeover suffer external and internal consequences such as significant added costs to taxpayers for campus-wide businesslike acceptance,narrowing or complete erosion of institutional missions, and most importantly, no real investment from theprimary stakeholders.  

A New Factory Model

The forcing of quantitative outcomes upon college students while dismantling the qualitative academic offerings serves only the corporate one-size-fits-all factory model. Any fundamental change away from intellectual growth negates the true guiding spirit of serving the educated person.  The devaluing of student-learning for business led curriculum and training could make academics undervalued by mandating future funding based on business result-oriented goals. Sadly, all public higher education is ripe for overthrow by these private foundations with their handpicked public servants in tow.

The CCRI faculty is a unique group of consummate professionals who, as primary stakeholders, perform their duties in spite of the political grandstanding. Over the past several years, CCRI has seen outside non-academics attempt to severely change themission and enabling statute (RIGL16.33.1-3), with legislation (Article 20) tethering academics to workforce development, also granting a college president plenary power to eliminate programs, consolidate departments, and dictate courses of study.    

Such a corporate designed legislative agenda shortchanges students with shortsighted political rhetoric. Awarding quick-fix, market value certificates to increase success rates will not pave a career path. The road to higher wages and long term employment is through the degree programs. Ask these same politicians intent on gutting the humanities if academic degrees they earned didn’t afford them a career?

If the state intends to utilize the academic experts to educate students who are looking to begin their academic journey as well as those looking to retool within the mercurial workforce, then CCRI must remain faithful to the vision of William Flanagan.

A more educated workforce pays dividends to any society, and that educative process starts with professors, not marketing plans.  The professors who chose CCRI for their life-long vocation believe in the college, its mission, its purpose, and incredible importance to our great state.

Certain politicians should not be led astray by billion dollar foundations like Complete College America who operate in political spheres without oversight. These outfits may encourage costly administrative bloat, and permit non-academics to view the people’s college as their very own experimental Petri dish.  

Do not allow your people’s college to be repurposed for short term political gain.

And do not turn your backs on those who have given so much for so many.

Steven F. Forleo is a professor of English at CCRI, and adviser to the student-run college newspaper, The Unfiltered Lens.


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