Senior Staff


Ron Cavallaro, JD

General Counsel

Ron Cavallaro has been serving as General Counsel to the Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education (and its predecessors, the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education and the R.I. Board of Education) since December 2006 and also as General Counsel to the Community College of Rhode Island since December 2013. Prior to that time, he was Legal Counsel for the Department of Labor and Training (formerly the Department of Employment Security), and served there in a part-time and full-time capacity for just over twenty years. While serving at DLT in a part-time capacity, he also maintained a private law practice located in Warwick, RI. 

From 1995 to 2009, Mr. Cavallaro was also a member of the adjunct faculty at the Southern New England School of Law, now known as the University of Massachusetts School of Law-Dartmouth, where he taught Business Organizations, Real Estate Transactions, and Labor Law.

Mr. Cavallaro graduated with his bachelor’s degree from Boston College, and then went on to earn his JD and LLM in Banking Law from Boston University School of Law.  

Anne Marie Coleman, JD

Director of Labor Relations

Anne Marie Coleman is the Director of Labor Relations for the Council on Postsecondary Education and the Assistant Vice President for Human Resources at the University of Rhode Island. In her capacity as Director of Labor Relations she is responsible for the negotiation and administration of fifteen (15) collective bargaining agreements across the postsecondary education system with full and part-time faculty, professional staff, graduate assistants and driver’s education instructors. Ms. Coleman also works with the three schools and the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner on system-wide human resources issues, and she coordinates the work of the Personnel Review Committee.

Ms. Coleman graduated from Providence College with a B.A. in Political Science, and she has a M.S. in Labor Relations from the University of Rhode Island and a J.D. from the University of Massachusetts (Dartmouth).


Phyllis Harnick, PhD

Assistant Commissioner for Planning

Phyllis F. Harnick was appointed the Interim Assistant Commissioner of Higher Education for Planning in July 2015.  She develops and implements strategies in support of the OPC strategic plan; generates analysis and development of policy; coordinates system-wide transfer initiatives; participates in PK-20 initiatives; conducts quality program reviews; and provides oversight of the veterans’ program approvals, proprietary school compliance and grants management.  Dr. Harnick joined the office in 1998 as a Planning Specialist.

Previously, she was the Dean and the chief academic officer at Aquinas College in Massachusetts for six years.  Dr. Harnick has been a faculty member at two- and four-year institutions in Rhode Island and North Carolina. 

She holds an M.Ed. from Harvard Graduate School of Education with a concentration in administration, social policy and planning, a Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island, a master’s from Indiana University and a bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University in English.


Susan LaPanne, PhD, CPA, CFE, CGMA

Associate Commissioner for Finance and Management

Susan LaPanne was appointed Associate Commissioner for Higher Education - Finance and Management in September 2007.  Her responsibilities include implementing the fiscal and fiduciary policies adopted by the Council on Postsecondary Education including asset protection, auxiliary enterprises – self-sufficiency, real estate transactions, capital development, fiscal accountability and tuition and fee policies.  In addition, she oversees the research and financial modelling on various fiscal policies and strategies.  The Finance and Management area of the Office is also responsible for bond related issues, internal audit, risk management, and treasury management for the higher education assistance authority assets.

Prior to this appointment, Dr. LaPanne served as a healthcare financial officer for over 20 years and later as full time faculty at the Bristol Community College in the Division of Business and Information Management. 

Dr. LaPanne holds a doctoral degree in Organizational Management from Capella University as well as a Master of Science degree in Accounting from the University of Rhode Island and a Bachelor degree from Mount Holyoke College.  She became a certified public accountant in 1988 and is a member of the AICPA and the RI Society for Certified Public Accountants.


Gail Mance-Rios

Deputy Director, Division of Higher Education Assistance

Gail Mance-Rios was appointed Deputy Director of the RI Higher Education Assistance Authority (now the Division of Higher Education Assistance) in July 2000. Her responsibilities include oversight of financial aid and college access program operations; managing the college and career exploration tool; coordinating state-wide efforts to improve FAFSA Completion rates; implementing the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship Program; and directing the Federal Family Education Loan Program. In 2008, she was honored by the RI School Counselors Association as Advocate of the Year for her commitment to promoting college readiness.

Prior to this role, Ms. Mance-Rios worked in financial aid and admissions at institutions in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. She graduated from Ithaca College with a B.A. in History, Anthropology, Philosophy/Religion. She has an M.S. in Counseling Psychology and C.A.S. in Counseling and Student Personnel Services from SUNY Albany.

Michael Walker-Jones, EdD

Assistant Commissioner for External Relations

Michael Walker-Jones handles community and government relations for the Commissioner and OPC staff, including public speaking engagements and legislative inquires and updates. As RI-SARA coordinator, he oversees the reviews and approvals for online degree-granting distance learning programs, as well as the student complaints process for SARA institutions.

Before joining the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner in 2015, Dr. Walker-Jones served as Director of Affiliate Services for the Massachusetts Teachers Association and Executive Director of Louisiana Association of Educators. He is a certified arbitrator through the American Arbitration Association, and he also has years of experience in the classroom at the elementary/ secondary and postsecondary levels.

Dr. Walker-Jones is a graduate of Monroe Community College (NY) and the University of Rochester (NY), where he earned his BA, MA, and EdD.