Despite not having a senior ed academy, Gilkey is optimistic about the state’s staffing gap closing

SHANNON GILKEY, RI’s post-secondary commissioner, says he’s optimistic the state can still close staff shortages, despite the proposed “higher academy” falling short of this year’s budget. /PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

PROVISION – Optimism remains with the RI Office of Postsecondary Commissioner about the state tackling staff shortages and helping residents receive an education, despite Governor Daniel J. McKee’s senior academy proposal not to meet in the 2023 fiscal budget.

Moreover, the idea that such an academy will come to fruition is not dead.

The proposed $22.5 million academy was first introduced in January as part of McKee’s proposal for a 2023 fiscal budget, but it was not included in the $13.6 billion budget the RI House had earlier in June. approved. House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, said in an emailed statement Wednesday that the House’s budgetary priority was to focus on providing funding for “existing programs” in higher education, adult education and the Real Jobs Rhode Island Program.

“The House wants to make sure those programs work well, rather than fund new ones,” Shekarchi said, also noting that the proposed academy would be considered next year if it’s reintroduced.

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The academy would be administered by the RI Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner and be a nationwide effort to support Rhode Islanders who have either failed college or are unable to complete their postsecondary education due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was proposed that the academy be funded over four fiscal years through funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and partnered with all of the state’s higher education institutions. McKee also held a roundtable in Central Falls in late March with students sharing their experiences overcoming several barriers navigating higher education in the Ocean State.

Shannon Gilkey, RI’s post-secondary commissioner, told Providence Business News on Wednesday that he is optimistic the academy will be reintroduced next year and may become a reality, especially as the need to address Rhode Island’s workforce challenges “still remains the same.” is”.

“We have relatively low unemployment, but we have a lot of underemployment,” Gilkey said. “We have a lot of people who have jobs that don’t qualify for the middle class or above.”

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Gilkey said getting a degree is “the fastest way” to empower the middle class and move people out of working entry-level positions. The higher ed academy, Gilkey said, would have been a “community-by-community approach” to increase the skills of individuals to “reach the middle-class workforce much faster.”

The academy is also said to have offered enveloping services — helping students remove any barriers that stand in their way of pursuing an education — mirroring such services offered by the Rhode Island Reconnect- program in conjunction with the RI Department of Labor and Training, Gilkey said.

In lieu of the higher ed academy, Gilkey said he wants the Rhode Island Reconnect program to grow and “serve more” than the approximately 1,600 Rhode Islanders the program currently has. In addition, RIOPC is partnering with the RI Executive Office of Health and Human Services to focus on comprehensive services for healthcare professionals.

Gilkey also said RIPOC is currently building an education center in Woonsocket, similar to the already operating Westerly Education Center, which will provide further training for staff in the state. The post-secondary commissioner also said the state is facilitating staff training in Woonsocket, but the new education center — expected to be fully built this summer — will partner with public and private institutions to provide education to people in the city. .

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“We are making progress to ensure we have a location in downtown Woonsocket to help Rhode Islanders,” Gilkey said.

James Bessette is the editor of PBN’s special projects and also covers the non-profit and education sectors. You can reach him at [email protected] You can also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette

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