A fundamental transition is taking place in which the world is moving from an industrial to
an information society, and information is evolving as a most critical factor for work and life
in the twenty-first century. As a result, the ability to search, find, manipulate and present
information is quickly becoming a required skill for all jobs. It is imperative, therefore, that
Rhode Island's public system of higher education
move deliberately to provide students,
faculty and staff with improved access to information technologies. This access is
essential to advancing the principal missions of the system -- education, research, and
public service -- so as to serve students better and to enhance further contributions to the
state's economic development.
Having identified telecommunications
as an area essential for remaining competitive in
higher education and indispensable for bolstering the economic prosperity of the state, the
Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education decided to take an in-depth look
at this issue across the system. Because the Board wanted an informed opinion on the
feasibility and options for future directions, an External Committee on Telecommunications
and Higher Education was established. This committee, composed of 14 members and
their alternates, was charged with addressing the issues related to the role of higher
education in the state s telecommunications infrastructure and formulating a set of
recommendations for consideration by the Board of Governors.
The committee began its work in the summer of 1994, held 10 meetings (including ones
at each of the three public institutions of higher education), and worked diligently to explore
alternatives and to reach consensus on what to propose. From its deliberations, the
committee identified a series of findings, a group of goals, and a set of recommendations
for the Board of Governors for Higher Education.
After analyzing the information supplied by the three public institutions of higher education
(the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and the Community College of
Rhode Island) and the Rhode Island Office of Higher Education, and information available
on other institutions of higher education, the committee reached the following conclusions
relative to the status of telecommunications in the public higher education system in Rhode
- The Rhode Island public system of higher education is woefully ill-equipped and
under-funded to meet the telecommunications and computer networking needs of
its students, faculty and staff, and the public.
- Much of the telecommunications equipment in the public system of higher
education, such as telephone systems, computer networks, and
microcomputers/workstations, is largely out-of-date and inadequate for supporting
emerging forms of information technology.
- The current standard data networking technology is Ethernet; both RIC and CCRI
are primarily using older technologies which run at much slower speeds. However,
all the fiber networks in place at RIC and CCRI can facilitate Ethernet.
- The fiber network backbone at URI extends to just 25 percent of the buildings,
whereas most of RIC and all of CCRI is interconnected to a network.
- The telephone systems at URI and RIC are among the greatest problems
confronting information technology and infrastructure at the public institutions.
Currently, the phone switches at URI and RIC do not support the North American
Dialing Plan Standards. The existing switches cannot accommodate additional
phone lines, and the cabling is in relatively poor condition.
- The public institutions of higher education are not equipped to supply information
across campuses because the network infrastructures for voice and data are
inadequate and do not extend to all areas of all campuses.
- In addition to having an insufficient number of workstations, the public institutions
of higher education have network infrastructures that can be characterized as
patchwork technologies that are, in some cases, more than 10 years old.
- Although all three public institutions of higher education are studying how to improve
their telecommunications and computer networks capabilities, little or no thought to
date has been given to establishing compatible infrastructures and applications for
the entire public system of higher education.
- Higher education even lags behind elementary and secondary education in terms
of the number of personal computers. Recent national estimates show that the ratio
of students to computers is about 14 to 1 in grades K through 12, whereas the ratio
in public higher education is about 24 to 1.
- The libraries at the public institutions of higher education, through the HELIN
system, provide the best example of cooperation and coordination of delivery
systems within the higher education system.
- All three public institutions of higher education currently spend on
telecommunications and computer networking, as part of their annual institutional
budgets, an amount less than the national mean percentages for similar institutions.
GOALS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Based upon these findings, the committee developed a series of long-range goals, which
are summarized below.
1. An Information Society. Rhode Island's public colleges and university must move
quickly to provide faculty, staff and students with access to telecommunications
technologies if they are to remain competitive with their peers and are to be prepared
for the twenty-first century.
2. Campus Information Infrastructure. Each institution needs a campus-wide
information infrastructure that will make information available universally within its
3. Financial Support. Strategies must be developed to provide the public institutions of
higher education with the resources necessary to acquire, modernize and support
telecommunications and computer networks.
4. Access to Information. Information, both within the institution and outside in the world
at large, must be available to people when they need it, in a form that is understandable
and useable to them.
5. Institutional Interconnection. Priority should be given to interconnecting the systems
of CCRI, RIC, URI, and RIOHE. A fully compatible, online information system should
be developed that could be used by all three institutions and the agency.
6. Libraries. The spirit of cooperation among the libraries of both public and private
institutions in the state is remarkable. Libraries should be further strengthened and
supported so they can continue to fulfill their roles in public higher education.
7. Teacher Training. Capacity-building efforts for teachers should extend to both those
in the classroom today as well as teachers in training, so that they can take full
advantage of the opportunities that technology provides.
8. Long-Range Planning. Information technology cannot simply be integrated into an
institution s long-range planning -- it affords opportunities to rethink core assumptions
9. Public Responsibility. In developing the communications infrastructure, the
institutions must position themselves to be able to participate fully in any statewide
telecommunications efforts that may be developed.
The goals led to the development of a set of specific recommendations. These
recommendations are divided into two types: those for Board of Governors action and
those the Board of Governors should ask the institutions to implement.
The External Committee on Telecommunications and Higher Education recommends that
the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education adopt these recommendations
and take the necessary steps to see that they are implemented.
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