BRAIN DRAIN SPEEDS UP
Regardless of the outcome of Diaz's bill or similar federal legislation, the ultimate impact of ever-rising tuition rates and declining state support could be a faster brain drain, as more of the state's brightest kids look to colleges and job opportunities outside Rhode Island.
"I was born in Rhode Island and spent the majority of my life here. But why should I stay? There's no benefit. There's no jobs," says URI student Ahrens.
"If we're going to continue to rely on one [major] resource — the students — they're going to go elsewhere and our state is going to wind up in a bad situation for many, many years to come," RIC's Buonanno says.
The NEA's Purtill sees the fiscal crunch as a unique opportunity for Rhode Island college students to become their own advocates.
"This is a great opportunity for students to get involved, and hold their elected leaders accountable," Purtill says. "They've got to become active."
There's new hope among education officials that President Barack Obama's stimulus package will funnel support to higher-education institutions and bring some tuition relief. Warner says the Board of Governors is also reviewing eliminating or consolidating additional programs with minimal enrollments and combining purchasing efforts, among other potential savings.
His advice to students: "Don't make decisions based on sticker-price alone." Loans are available and financial-aid packages can be tweaked if a family's circumstances change in the middle of a school year.
"There are ways to finance a college education despite the rising cost of tuition," Warner says.
Still, officials warn that tuition rates could jump by as much as 25 percent this fall if the state drops its aid to an anticipated $147 million for the three schools — the lowest level of funding in a decade.
Ahrens, like many, plans to wait out the recession, even if it means adding to his college debt. He's hopeful he'll be accepted to a master's of business administration program — and that the economy will have rebounded by the time he graduates.
Buonanno, a communications major set to graduate with the Class of 2010, is already worried that he may have to scale back his dreams of becoming a political spokesman.
"Right now," he says, "my goal is to get a job when I graduate."
Meaghan Wims can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.