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Colleges, universities, and adult higher education programs in Rhode Island are operated under the supervision of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education. The state has 12 four-year educational institutions and 14 two-year colleges. Brown University, one of the most prestigious schools in the United States, resides in Rhode Island.. It is ranked No. 15 in the nation by the U.S. News & World Report and is one of only eight universities in the U.S. that can call itself Ivy League.
In terms of enrollment, the University of Rhode Island is the largest four-year institution in the state. Founded in 1890, it’s ranked No. 147 in the nation by U.S. News. Meanwhile, the Community College of Rhode Island is the largest postsecondary school in Rhode Island and is the largest community college in all of New England. It confers associate degrees as well as prepares students for learning at four-year institutions.
Rhode Island has not implemented any higher education initiatives that relate to online degree programs or distance education in general. There has, however, been a push by several private and public organizations, including the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. In 2010, the organization released Virtual Learning in Rhode Island, a report detailing the current state of distance education in Rhode Island. In the report, the 1997 Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education (RIBGHE) Policy on Distance Learning is confronted as it was the last policy released that made stipulations regarding distance education in the state. It outlines distance education at the postsecondary level as it is still regulated today, stating that the goal of distance learning is to increase and improve students’ access to educational opportunities. It also states that distance learning should be maintained for quality purposes. However, as the Virtual Learning report points out, state policy on distance education at the postsecondary needs revision given its tremendous growth since the initial policy was presented in 1997. In that policy, the report continues, language should be chosen carefully so as to not restrict online college degree programs and course options.
Rhode Island Distance Learning Initiatives
Online degree programs in Rhode Island are doing quite well despite Rhode Island’s dated stance on distance education. Schools with online degree programs and courses are plentiful even with the state’s small population size. Many schools offering accredited online degree programs and courses have created committees to ensure students have access to the best online degree programs and courses possible. The University of Rhode Island, for instance, began a distance/online learning committee. Within the committee are several sub-committees responsible for identifying ways for improving distance learning in general, online degrees and courses through new technological mediums. Committee members are experienced in the field of online learning as many having taught in such an environment before.
The Community College of Rhode Island, on the other hand, appointed a distance learning committee in 2004. The purpose of the committee is to develop, assess, and execute distance education options to students to ensure adequate access to higher education. The community college offers online, hybrid, and telecourse options to students who want to enroll in a distance education program.