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RI Needs to support Higher Education for all

October 7, 2011

The rhetorical battle rages over providing the children of illegal immigrants an opportunity to attend Rhode Island public colleges and pay in-state tuition. RIPR’s Scott MacKay says this fight obscures an even bigger crisis in our state’s support for public higher education.

Governor Chafee’s support for in-state tuition for undocumented students has drawn brickbats from conservative Republicans and anti-immigrant activists and, of course, the Rhode Island Tea Party.

Chafee is being lambasted for making an end run around the General Assembly, which for years now has refused to approve, or even vote on, legislation that would have given these children a shot at a college education at the lower in-state tuition rates.

While leaders of the Latino community face off against the anti-immigrant voices flooding the talk radio airwaves, there is a deeper problem with the way our General Assembly has treated higher education in recent years.

Consider what has happened at the state’s flagship college campus, the University of Rhode Island. A state government cuts taxes for the wealthy and starves higher education can’t expect URI to maintain its historic mission of providing a path to the middle class for this generation of Rhode Island’s young people.

Since the Morrill Act was approved during the Civil War, URI and its sister land-grant universities have been the springboard of upward mobility, colleges where smart, diligent  kids who weren’t wealthy could get a fine education at a reasonable cost.

When Robert Carothers took over as URI’s president in 1991, the state supported about 30 percent of the university’s budget. Now, his successor, President David Dooley presides over a URI that gets less than 9 percent of its budget from the state.

In 1961, just 20 percent of URI’s students came from outside the state. By 1981, that number was up to 30 percent. Now, about 40 percent of the students at our state university hail from outside the state’s borders.

There is no secret to why this has happened. As the General Assembly cuts money to URI, university brass have looked outside the state to bring in students who pay tuition and fees that are substantially higher than the rates given Rhode Islanders.

You can’t blame URI. When given the choice between cutting programs and lowering standards or bringing in more out of state students, university leaders have obviously chosen to recruit more of the higher-paying out-of-staters.

This is a sad and ultimately self-defeating strategy on so many levels. It may be a cliché to say that an educated person is more likely to have a good job and be a more productive citizen. But it happens to be true. The unemployment rate for college graduates hovers around five percent, far lower than the double-digit rates for high school graduates.

Rhode Island has the poorest educated work force of any New England state, except Maine. By slashing support for higher education, state government has done nothing but perpetuate our state’s reputation as New England’s Third World economy, with high unemployment rates and scant opportunity fore the young and ambitious.

Chafee deserves some credit for recognizing this problem. He tried to put more money into higher education in his first budget, but the Assembly sliced his request. On the immigrant issue, the governor has been pragmatic. In his letter to the Board of Governors for Higher Education, Chafee said one of the reasons he supports the in-state tuition plan  is to strengthen our work force and help the economy.

The Tea Party complaints about the governor drip with hypocrisy. These folks (and the ProJo editorial page) say they are upset that the governor made an `end run’ around the General Assembly and used the Board of Governors for Higher Education to establish the new policy. This is one of those process arguments that so enamor activists. The fact is that people don’t complain about the process when it goes their way.

For example, there wasn’t a peep from these conservatives when former Gov. Don Carcieri used executive orders to advance his anti-immigrant policies when the General Assembly refused to approve them. Exhibit A was his policy that state vendors be subject to the E-Verify electronic data system. And Exhibit B was his state police crackdown on the undocumented, also done with an executive order.

As for the ProJo, the newspaper’s increasingly strident anti-immigrant stance is not worthy of a good newspaper. Since when should children be punished for the sins of their parents? And the use in editorials of the Orwellian term “illegal aliens’’ puts the paper in the same realm as the shrill crazies of talk radio. Managing decline and plunging circulation is not easy, but moving to mirror the views of Talk Show Nation doesn’t seem to be the path to regaining relevance for one of New England’s leading news outlets. We would like to think that Ed Achorn is capable of  principled conservatism and is far better than sounding like John DePetro with a library.

If  state lawmakers really want to forge a Rhode Island that can compete in the global 21st century economy, they ought to stop starving higher education, a crucial fulcrum for a better future for all Rhode Islanders, immigrant and native alike. URI ought to live up to its name as the University OF Rhode Island, not merely the University IN Rhode Island.

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:35 and 8:35. You can follow his political reporting and analysis at the `On Politics’ blog at

5 Comments leave one →
  1. ray permalink
    October 8, 2011 12:06 am

    So do we just open the doors to our state to illegals to come here and get an education? We are a nation of laws. What happens when a class closes up cause they have reached capacity,are the undocumented going to get in the back of the line? From what I understand is if an undocumented scores higher on SATS they will get in over an American citizen,sorry but I dont think thats right and I am a Democrat.

  2. October 8, 2011 2:54 am


    The Democrats have to rely on those extra voters in 2012, whether they are legal or illegal. THIS IS A TRUE FACT THAT CAN BE AUTHENTICATED. The Republican hardliners are already hoping to derail Rep. Lamar Smiths Mandatory E-Verify, so their special interest lobbyists can still get their fair share of cheap labor. These people are coming here and not just through our shared border with Mexico, but by international flights from across the world. Both political parties have their own agendas, with the Liberal Extremists pushing the Department of In-Justice, trying to block the current Alabama immigration policing laws. More state will follow Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and others, but will be enveloped in lies from the other side and the goal of the Obama leadership in crushing any chance of a states sovereignty being upheld. Americans can aid themselves and the millions of their fellow population, by insuring the passage of the mandatory Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2885) in the coming Congressional sessions. This will help to combat the millions of foreign workers now illegally co-existing in the workplace and halting for good profit inspired employers from hiring them.


    E-Verify signifies a breakthrough in our immigration laws and the only avenue we have is our vote in pressuring Congress in passing H.R. 2885 Bill. Until this happens, no state is safe for the unbound repetitious force of illegal migrants and immigrants straining America’s welfare and public expenditure resources. By Looking towards California, a state of American success in just 10 years has fallen, moreover unfairly burdened with millions of illegal alien families. They have bled the legal public treasury of billions of dollars in free services. The children of illegal alien parents and the unrelenting onslaught of sponsored–CHAIN MIGRATION has scored deep gashes in the California safety-net. Welfare benefits for the children of illegal immigrants cost America’s largest county in 2010 more than $600 million last year. It is officially claimed the “total cost for illegal immigrants to the Pacific state taxpayers” was more than $1.6 billion in 2010.

    Oh! With the Alabama law in full swing, where are the—ECONOMIC—illegal immigrants going? May be California, Nevada and any unrestrictive states, where illegal nationals can raid the welfare systems.

    New York is another State with relaxed immigration laws, so it’s no wonder there welfare entitlement commitment is zooming ever higher. Then again, Andrew Cuomo, collected the title of “Architect of Ruin” along with others as Rep. Barney Frank. On Coumo’s watch he pressured banks and financial houses to offer low income, specifically illegal alien’s mortgage loans—even though they didn’t have the means, to pay them back—even they couldn’t qualify with sufficient credit. All this issue was quietly snuggled away into dusty files somewhere, so the public remained in the dark. This had the cause of effect of the rest estate crash that took place in 2009.

    Be vigilant of those who confess to be in the true TEA PARTY leadership, as we have been conned before by both sides of the aisle. Making the wrong decision when we vote in 2012, could as well replace Obama with another far right Republican, who are favored by the open border delegations who pour money into their campaigns. We should be nervous of Perry, and the apportionment of money heading in his direction, as he will be capable of swamping the TV channels with unequaled rhetoric. My limited funds will go towards Herman Cain, who is my contender in the race and has a strong plan for our country, including his ambitious D- in relating to his standing opinion, that no illegal alien should be offered amnesty. Romney, Bachmann have also are considered to have excellent records, to finally stop the devastating effect of people from foreign countries pouring into America. The rest of the candidates have poor to abysmal records, while they have been public servants of the people. Much study of the illegal immigration occupation has been accomplished by NumbersUSA, where you can also observe for yourself the outcome.

    The Federation for American Immigration Reform has studied these kinds of expenditure nationwide to get an idea of the financial load to local governments, especially at a time when many are grappling with budget deficits. The FAIR organization reported that the cost of illegal immigration stands at about $113 billion a year. Nearly half of that total went toward education costs, according to the study. The outlay was naturally higher in states with large illegal immigrant populations — in California; the total yearly expenditure was pegged at $21.8 billion. This is a repeat performance and is still spiraling upwards uncontrollably, more so since the Democratic State House and Senate have the overwhelming power in Sacramento. All these dollar figures are verifiable through the offices of Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich. Nevada has major illegal alien problems as well, so unless you live in a isolated bubble—your own state has been hit hard as well?

    What we spend in court- enforced contributions from our payroll checks is a sad unresolved situation, where illegal immigration is concerned. Having to repeat the same tired mantra of how much is being extorted from all of us, tends to become exhausting; with no relief in sight. Perhaps by looking to leaders of the–ALL AMERICAN-TEA PARTY, of all legal persons, we can expect a different result and cure this phenomenon. That is scattering throughout the industrialized nations of the world. As a country, we must draw a line and say no more economic aliens, who are heavily attributing to the United States poverty. Our economic viability is fading away, so we should only accept winning immigrants of the highly skilled variety, not the poor that we must support with our dwindling dollars.

    Don’t expect your neighbor or a friend, to find a few minutes to call the political sock puppets in Washington, as you must contact them accomplished in this fiery issue, as the laws up to this point been ignored for twenty five years. President Obama for a time showed promise with a million or more deportations, but suddenly there was an ominous influence that changed his direction. Unfortunately, the law is not being followed and thousands who came here illegally, but do not carry any criminal blot on their background other than trespassing in our lands, are likely be released. Most countries, not even Mexico allow illegal entry into the country, without being tracked and perceptively be facing a felony wrap. There will be no light at the end of the tunnel, unless we make an effort to pitch the certainty of Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2885). yourself. Unless we pull together–nothing will ever be

    There is an unsympathetic attack on E-Verify House bill, that must be overcome by insisting that the Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH); House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA); House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) ; House Chairman of Ways & Means Committee Dave Camp (R-MI); & Members of the Ways & Means Committee. You can insist political action on your part, if you are frustrated with the indifference to the people. Call them today as this bill is ready for a reading and must not be tabled. The Washington switchboard at 202-224-3121, will transfer you to any of these lawmakers.

    One Old Vet saying, “Stand next to me and you’ll never stand alone.”


  3. Edie Ajello permalink
    October 8, 2011 2:19 pm

    Well said Scott
    Thank you
    Edie Ajello

  4. Mike permalink
    October 9, 2011 6:27 am

    The term “immigrant” implies a “legal process.” About 60% of the illegal alien population are “undocumented aliens,” who are commonly known as “unlawful border crossers,” or more properly known as “illegal aliens.” About 40% of the U.S. illegal alien population are “documented aliens,” who are commonly known as “visa overstayers.”
    The visa overstayers hold non-immigrant visas such as the H-1B skilled foreign worker visa.
    Therefore, it is not possible for the holder of an expired non-immigrant visa to become an “immigrant” as a result of staying beyond the visa duration. Correct and proper term: illegal alien or undocumented alien.

  5. tim1999 permalink
    October 9, 2011 6:30 pm

    My my how liberals weep for the uneducated among us as they support every effort to stomp out meaningful education reform in our urban core.
    Despite the weepy yet hilarious lip service Scott McKay and other liberals give this topic the reality is liberals love keeping the poor and uneducated right where they are…on the public dole and voting D.

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