The Rhode Island Board of Education unanimously approved a budget request for the 2016 fiscal year on Monday that if approved by the governor, would increase tuition for the first time in three years at Rhode Island’s state colleges, including the University of Rhode Island.

Pending the approval of Governor-elect Gina Raimondo and the general assembly, Commissioner of Postsecondary Education Jim Purcell said the recommended 2.8 percent tuition increase could potentially be higher if the recommended 7.7 percent increase in state subsidizations is not approved.

“The one thing I was surprised of when I came [here] is the lack of state support for students within the state,” Purcell said. “It just seems while other folks have decided to invest in human capital Rhode Island has chosen not to.  It’s going to really impact their success unless they start to think of how important human capital is.”

Recommended URI 2.8 percent tuition raise next fall breaks down to:

$365 a year

$48 dollar increase per 3-credit course

In-state tuition: $12,506

Out-of-state tuition:  $28,072

Since 2008, Rhode Island has reduced their state spending per student by $1,649 or 26 percent, a reduction Purcell calls “a drastic cut.” Rhode Island students now pay almost 71 percent of the cost of college compared to 58.7 percent before the 2008 recession. URI’s tuition would rank fifth-lowest for in-state and sixth lowest for out-of-state compared to six other New England state universities.  Nationally, students pay an average of 47.5 percent while the rest of the cost is subsidized by the government.

According to Purcell, state disinvestment in higher education has been gradually increasing in Rhode Island since the early ‘80s. He said the state is now in a place where “Tuition has had to fill the gap.” URI President David Dooley feels that the “modest tuition hike” the budget recommended is one the state could “seriously consider.”

“Eventually you have to have enough resources to offer the quality and range of higher education activities that are incumbent with being a quality institution,” he said.  “If we get the state support we can maintain our tuition rates.  If we don’t get the state support then there needs to be an opportunity for funds to be addressed.”

Some URI community members, like senior economics major David Catanzaro, worry that the university increasing tuition to fill a budgetary gap that, in the past was filled by government subsidization, is indicative of rocky economic and social future. Recently at the University of North Carolina, public and governmental disinvestment in public higher education forced the university to reallocate the income made off students who pay full tuition to supplement the financial aid packages offered to others.

Though, in August, the board of governors voted unanimously to cap the amount of tuition that could be used for financial aid at 15 percent, the ticket price of education for students who do not qualify for aid is still high. Particularly affected by this is the working middle class for whom tuition has become unaffordable. Some, like members of the economically forward thinking Roosevelt Institute, argue the redistribution of tuition creates a socioeconomic divide between students.

“If college tuition was largely free, paid for by all people and income sources, then there’d be no need for a working-class or middle-class student to view a poorer student as a direct threat to their economic stability,” Mike Konczal, a Roosevelt Institute fellow, wrote of the situation in North Carolina in an article published to the blog of the Roosevelt Institute, “Next New Deal”.

“That’s what’s going to happen at different schools and probably at URI, too,” Catanzaro said.  “The state disinvestment ultimately leads to class antagonism between rich and poor, it wouldn’t be there if the state was paying for education.”

Dooley hopes that government officials will realize the modesty of this compromise budget and will start investing more readily in public education.  He said that student activism could play a role in keeping tuition low.

“We’re going to be in [the general assembly meetings] advocating strongly that investments in the University of Rhode Island in particular are going to pay off for the state … and that it’s important to keep higher education affordable,” Dooley said.

If this budget is approved tuition will also be raised at the Community College of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College.