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For adults who didn’t finish college, RIC creates a path to a degree

Rhode Island College has launched a new, fully-online bachelor program for adult students, filling a need for local employers.

The exterior of Rhode Island College.

After speaking to employers across the state, Jenifer R. Giroux said it was clear one of the largest workforce issues Rhode Island faced was how many residents had attended college but never finished. In fact, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, approximately 120,000 Rhode Islanders have some college credit, but no degree, putting them at an economic disadvantage.

Giroux, who was recently promoted to Rhode Island College’s first-ever vice president of corporate relations and professional studies, helped launch the college’s new bachelor of professional studies for adults looking to return to school. It’s the institution’s first fully online degree completion program that Giroux said is the most affordable per credit cost in Rhode Island.


Who is eligible to enroll?

Giroux: You have to be 25 or older, have at least 24 college credits, and five years of professional experience or military training. You can earn up to 32 credits for prior professional and military experience.

Many adults who want to return to college are also juggling families, a full-time job, and other commitments. How could this program work into their schedules?

We have a format of two, eight-week semesters in place of what would normally be a normal semester. It’s much more realistic and helps with retention. It allows students to be enrolled full time, but to only focus on two courses at a time. It’s manageable for someone who may be returning to school after quite some time. Each concentration includes a certificate of undergraduate studies that they earn halfway through the program.

What are those certificates?

We decided to start with Social Services and Organizational Leadership as our first concentrations in the program. The social services students earn a nonprofit studies certificate and the organizational leadership students earn a certificate in workplace diversity. A stackable degree program is another thing we are working on at the college. We want students to be able to earn certificates while [working toward earning] their bachelor’s degree.”


Why start with Social Services and Organizational Leadership?

Our dean of social work and dean of business were speaking to local employers and that seemed to be where the most needs were right now.

Yet, many in social services are not earning a livable wage in Rhode Island, and the sector is experiencing a serious labor shortage, which is hurting the programs that the state’s most vulnerable populations need.

That’s absolutely the case. That is a challenge for students, but mostly the adults we are seeing are returning to their education because it’s been a goal of theirs to complete their degree and they are committed to working in that field. It’s definitely a challenge for those adults without a college degree in very demanding, stressful and high-turnover fields.

On the undergraduate side, we are also trying to employ students here on campus, including in our work-study programs, so they can earn a decent wage so we’re not competing with outside jobs and they can continue their studies.

How much does this program cost?

The program is offered at a discounted tuition rate of $347 per credit. [There’s also a $100 technology fee, a $50 library fee, and a $275 program fee]. These students are also eligible for financial aid.

How many people have enrolled?

We had 13 students in the first social services cohort in the spring [of 2022], 26 students in the first cohort of organizational leadership this fall, and 11 students in the second social services cohort this fall. We are actively recruiting for spring 2023 for both programs.


What is the vice president of corporate relations and professional studies? Why was it formed and what do you oversee?

This was a promotion from my role as associate vice president for professional studies and continuing education, which included all the workforce development, workforce training, and what you would think as the traditional kind of continuing education programs for people who maybe wanted to earn a certificate program. That grew to really encompass a lot of work with employers around training their employees, looking for talent, and then connecting them back to the appropriate people at the college.

This new position allows me to be able to develop and lead a strategic plan around corporate engagement for the institution. I’m also a two-time RIC alum.

What goals do you have for the program?

Ideally, we’d like a concentration in each of our five schools. We do see a lot of room for expansion, and think we could have more than one concentration for this program in each school. If we can aggressively decide on the next concentrations, we could get those online within the next two years.

What other new workforce development initiatives is RIC involved in now?

The Rhode Island STEAM Center is housed within RIC and we just went through a redesign. We also just wrote a federal grant, earmarked from Congressman Jim Langevin, so we can develop a certificate program in the IT field that can also be contextualized for multilingual learners. It’s going to be new for us, but will create a new pathway for a career that is in high demand. The program [available in Spanish and Portuguese to start] will cover leadership development, cybersecurity, IT support, data analytics and software development.


The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at alexa.gagosz@globe.com.

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.