Rhode Island College is the center of not one, but two budget amendments filed by Gov. Dan McKee Friday.
The first budget amendment filed by McKee is to fund the Institute for Cybersecurity & Emerging Technologies, which would be housed at RIC. The institute would be led by former Congressman and RIC alumnus, Jim Langevin, who prioritized this topic throughout his time in Congress.
“The Cybersecurity industry is a rapidly-growing field, and it is imperative that Rhode Island be at the forefront,” McKee said at a press conference Friday. “We want to ensure that we are focused on growing critical subject matters at Rhode Island College that will create a pipeline of talent for the jobs of tomorrow. I thank Congressman Langevin for his willingness to lend his national expertise to lead this effort – we are honored to have him as a partner in this exciting new Institute.”
Langevin shared a similar enthusiasm about the benefits this institute would provide.
“The Cyber Institute will provide students with the necessary knowledge and skills required to excel in the digital age,” Langevin said. “Students will be equipped with the tools and techniques to protect and secure sensitive information from cyber threats and attacks. Moreover, they will be trained to develop and apply machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies to solve complex problems across various industries. The training needed to fill these important job needs can’t come soon enough.”
Several state leaders joined McKee, which included Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, an alumna of RIC.
“The creation of an Institute for Cybersecurity & Emerging Technologies at RIC will create even greater opportunities for both new and returning students in a growing field,” Matos said. “With the leadership of Congressman Langevin and his decades of experience, RIC will-be well positioned to become a national leader in Cybersecurity research, education, and collaboration.”
RIC President, Dr. Jack Warner was also in attendance. Warner sees a lot of benefits for the college through this institute.
“It plays on our strengths,” Warner told The Anchor. “We have strengths in computer information systems and also cyber security. We got significant coursework there, we got excellent faculty. So, we’re going to bring more faculty in, we’re going to expand the program, recruit heavily for it, so it should have a positive effect on enrollment. But also, we’ll carve out a niche with the kind of investment capital that’s going into this, we can get high-quality faculty, good research space, lab space – all kinds of good things are going to happen.”
In terms of Langevin’s role as leading this institute, Warner sees the congressman’s connections with the industry and positions on major boards playing a major part.
“It’ll position Rhode Island College to play in the big leagues when it comes to cybersecurity,” Warner added.
Langevin’s role will also include guest-lecturing courses within this institute.
“I’ll certainly be there as a guest-lecturer for classes in the cyber security institute or in other areas of the college as asked to do it and as appropriate,” Langevin told The Anchor.
As for his goals with this institute, Langevin wants it to be “a destination program where people want to go to get trained in jobs for cybersecurity.”
The congressman also sees the potential for this program in helping young people seeking good-paying jobs.
“I want to make sure we’re helping our young people to get their foot in the door with a good-paying job,” Langevin added. “You don’t need just right off the bat, a two or even four-year degree in cyber security to get a good-paying job in the field. Sometimes just a certificate program in the field will be enough.”
Currently, cybersecurity is a minor at RIC, but will soon become a major. A new curriculum is being submitted in two weeks, and Warner expects approval “this month.”
Once approved, this institute would start right away in the fall 2023 semester. This institute would be under the college’s School of Business.
McKee’s proposal includes a starting budget of $4 million over a three year period. $2 million of this funding would be from Rhode Island’s State Fiscal Recovery Funds, while the other half would come from RIC.
Warner said the $2 million from RIC will go toward faculty, staff and facilities that will be staged out “over a three-year period of time” along with the state’s portion of funding.
RIC has faced financial challenges as a result of decreasing enrollment throughout the years. As for if the college has the funding, Warner said “Yes, we do” adding, “We’ve been reallocating resources and we’re in much better shape than we were recently.”
Specific reallocations were not specified after a follow up question, with Warner saying, “RIC is now engaged in an ongoing process of reallocating positions from areas of lower enrollments to areas of higher enrollments or potential for growth. This is certainly a priority area for potential growth.”
The second budget amendment McKee filed was for the Rhode Island Hope Scholarship, which is a big legislative priority for RIC this session.
“The Hope Scholarship is a win for students, families and all of Rhode Island,” McKee said in a statement. “We know that students who graduate with four year degrees will have higher earning potential and also help fill important professional positions within our economy. The Hope Scholarship will be a critical tool used to ensure affordability isn’t the reason our students don’t finish their four year degrees.”
Similar to State Rep. Joe McNamara (D-Dist. 19) and Senate Majority Leader Ryan Pearson’s legislation, H 5099 and S 0077, this proposal would fund a pilot program for the Hope Scholarship. If approved, McKee’s proposal would start for students graduating in fall 2023 and go until May 2026.
As with both aforementioned pieces of legislation, this proposal also has a minimum GPA requirement and students needing to obtain a certain number of credits.
The price tag for McKee’s proposal includes $9.4 million from State Fiscal Recovery Funds and $1 million from RIC’s institutional financial aid.
Students who have received the Rhode Island Promise scholarship would not be eligible for the Hope Scholarship.
Support from the Rhode Island House and Senate leadership is critical for virtually every policy goal and proposed funding to get across the finish line.
House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio are not giving any prejudgements or initial commitments.
“The House Finance Committee will conduct a thorough analysis and hold public hearings on these two budget amendments submitted today by Governor McKee,” Shekarchi said in a statement. “I am keeping an open mind and will review the testimony and discuss the proposals with my House colleagues during the course of this transparent process.”
“The Senate President would not want to prejudge the committee hearing process,” Gregg Paré, a spokesperson for Ruggerio, told The Anchor. “These proposals will be thoroughly reviewed by the Senate Finance Committee.”