In the early days of March 2020, the number of cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) began to increase dramatically. Institutions of higher education (IHEs) throughout the State of Rhode Island, heeding the call by Governor Gina Raimondo, suspended campus operations and transitioned from in-person classroom instruction to distance learning. By March 30, 2020, all 11 IHEs were functioning primarily online and completing courses in progress. As the coronavirus cases continued to threaten the public health, representatives of the IHEs prepared remotely for the reopening of campuses with a community presence that would differ greatly from the one that predated the March exodus. This report details the actions that Governor Gina Raimondo and her executive team deployed to communicate the best available guidance for avoiding coronavirus outbreaks, to offer access to public health experts who could advise on easing the transition to the next term, and to provide uniform advice to the public and private IHEs so all could plan for their unique needs.
To assist the IHEs in their shared goals, Governor Raimondo appointed Kevin Gallagher, Esq., senior deputy chief of staff, Office of the Governor; Catherine McConnell, education policy advisor, Office of the Governor; and Amy Grzybowski, executive director of RI Higher Education and Industry Centers in the RI Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner, to lead the Higher Education Workstream. The multi-agency response was coordinated to prepare RI IHEs for reopening with particular attention among all functions to evolving issues, impending deadlines, emerging events, and the unique needs of the higher education community.
The affected population included 11 IHEs, which collectively educate approximately 70,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The institutions vary from community college, four-year universities, a law school, a medical school, a land-grant public university, a technical university, private Catholic colleges, an art and design university and a culinary university. All shared similar needs to address the safe resumption of instruction, reopening of campuses, and coping with the ongoing pandemic. Collectively, and with assistance by AICURI and state government, the IHEs readied themselves for the resumption of courses and a reopening of campuses.