RIC president impresses, but challenge lies ahead

Johnston Sun Rise ·

The president of any public or private college or university must serve, first and foremost, as the institution’s biggest cheerleader. To spearhead the charge in educating the world’s future generations of politicians, educators, healthcare practitioners, CEOs, artists and scientists, you must have an unflinching belief that your institution provides the best of the best in academic opportunities.

In its new president Frank Sánchez, Rhode Island College has not only found that inspiring, charismatic supporter, they have found a truly innovative, forward-thinking leader.

During a recent visit to the Beacon headquarters, Sánchez outlined his plan to “change the narrative” at RIC. He said that, although public perception polls showed that people believed that close to a majority of RIC students attend the college to become teachers, in reality only 15 percent of the student body actually pursue that career path.

Changing that narrative, to Sánchez, means speaking louder about the world-class resources available to RIC students – such as a virtual operating room full of animatronic manikins where nursing students can be trained not only in physical treatment procedures, but in the social, emotional aspect of learning proper bedside manner and people skills as well.

Sánchez talked about the popularity of RIC’s business program, which he said included nearly 1,500 students and is just as big as the nursing and teaching programs. He said that business would soon be an official school at RIC.

Sánchez comes from a background of working directly with student bodies to address their concerns. He began his career as Vice President for Student Affairs at Adams State University then became the Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver and rose to be the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at The City University of New York, the nation’s largest urban public university.

Drawing from this experience, Sánchez understands how creating an engaged, enthusiastic student base can lead to positive change for a university as a whole. RIC is currently in the midst of a large-scale modernization, with residence halls and educational buildings undergoing multi-million dollar renovations in order to give students a campus they can be proud to learn in and be proud to live on.

Additionally, Sánchez is open to experimenting with ideas such as using more open-source textbooks and utilizing more green energy on campus to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for students. Perhaps his most exciting idea involved incentivizing the educational experience for students, awarding them points through a mobile app-based system which could possibly be swapped for reduced textbook costs and merchandise, among other possible rewards.

Sánchez has proven in his first year that he intends to shake things up in a positive way for RIC, but the mountain lies mostly ahead of him to conquer. Rhode Island ranked 41st in public higher education funding during the 2015/16 school year. Funding has declined by 22 percent since 2008, while tuition has increased by $3,136 in that same time span, according to a 2016 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Sánchez admitted that there could be “good conversations” had about possibly combining services with Rhode Island’s two other public institutions – the University of Rhode Island and Community College of Rhode Island – but stopped short of committing RIC down that path. He did say that he was in active communications with those institutions’ presidents about how they can collaborate for the betterment of their students.

Based on his genuine disposition and some early returns, Sánchez has earned the faith of this publication. But unlike cheerleaders, presidents of any educational institution must back up their charismatic support with results on the field.