Rhode Island’s current postsecondary attainment level of 46.8% is on par with the national average, but well below the state’s attainment goal of 70% by 2025, and there is good reason to focus on this measure. At the individual level, higher educational attainment has been linked with higher incomes, deeper community engagement, and a higher quality of life. At the state level, higher educational attainment has been linked with economic prosperity, the potential to attract investment from business and industry, and a state’s capacity to spur innovation.
It is important to note that attainment metrics mask disparities by race/ethnicity. RIOPC is committed to eradicating equity gaps in the public higher education system in Rhode Island.
Currently, around 10,000 new students enroll in an undergraduate degree-seeking program at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, or the Community College of Rhode Island, the three public institutions of higher education in Rhode Island, every year.
In order to reach our postsecondary attainment goal, we must attract significantly more people into public higher education. An increase in new entries over the current 10,000 per year will be the earliest indicator of progress towards our attainment goal.
Factoring out graduates and transfers, around 77% of Rhode Island’s higher education students remain enrolled from one year to the next, and those who do not continue leave for a range of varied and complex reasons. Factors likely to influence a student's decision to drop out or stay in school include personal and academic characteristics like student age, demographic background, financial need, cumulative GPA, enrollment units, work hours, and English proficiency.
Reducing the number of stop-outs and drop-outs will have a significant cumulative impact on improving the state’s completions and attainment.
With 560,000 individuals in Rhode Island’s working-age population, the Ocean State needs an estimated 390,000 certificate and degree holders to reach 70% attainment -- 140,000 more than the current number. Since Rhode Island’s attainment rate has inched up 1-2% annually over the past 10 years, we can expect to reach 300,000 degree and credential holders within the working-age population by 2025.
Even with these important gains, reaching the 70% attainment goal will require an additional 90,000 Rhode Islanders to earn postsecondary degrees and credentials, beyond the current levels of degree production, over the next seven years, or around 13,000 additional degrees and credentials per year.