RI roadblock has Neumont U. chief eyeing Mass. as alternative

Ned Levine

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The head of Neumont University, the Utah-based for-profit school seeking a green light from lawmakers to open its second campus in Rhode Island, met with officials in Boston last week to review his options there amid uncertainty about whether the General Assembly will act.

“Rhode Island is our preferred home,” Ned Levine, Neumont’s president, told WPRI.com on Friday. “But we need a New England campus. There’s a market and there’s demand among employers in the Northeast, and therefore that’s attractive to students.”

Rhode Island is the only state in the nation that requires for-profit colleges to pass a special law authorizing them to operate, after which the school would need to win approval from the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education. No special law is needed in Massachusetts, where Neumont’s application would go directly to the Mass. Board of Higher Education.

“We have to be in the Northeast,” Levine said. “We hope it’s Rhode Island, but it will be some place.” The college would lease space rather than build if it wins approval, he said.

Neumont needs Rhode Island lawmakers to make a decision by April at the latest in order for the school to move forward with its plan to enroll 80 students at a Providence campus by the fall of 2013, said Levine, a former Rhode Island School of Design trustee and Johnson & Wales University executive. Neumont would also move its headquarters here.

Neumont offers a technology curriculum to college-age students, who can get a bachelor’s degree from the school in two and a half years for about $83,000 when all costs are included. Its proposal is strongly opposed by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island, which has pointed to mismanagement in other parts of the for-profit education sector and argued Neumont isn’t needed.

“The acceptance of for-profit higher education is not an economic development or work force policy issue as its proponents have attempted to frame it as, but rather a higher education policy issue as to the state’s direction in delivering quality higher education,” Daniel Egan, the association’s president, told WPRI.com.

“Undoing the current higher education policy will have long-term ramifications for students and their families seeking quality higher education in our state if we do not heed recent warnings and learn from past experiences,” he said.

To counter that opposition, Levine cited letters supporting Neumont’s argument that it’s needed in Rhode Island from some of the state’s best-known tech executives, including Donald Stanford of GTECH; Stephen Lane of Ximedica; Jeanne Lieb of FM Global; Jim Donovan of EMC Corp.; Anne S. De Groot of EpiVax; and Charlie Kroll of Andera.

“I can report first-hand that the shortage is real,” wrote Kroll, a Brown University graduate whose firm is often cited as a local success story. “Andera currently employs seven overseas programmers due to our challenges recruiting here. Additionally, we recently acquired a company based in San Francisco in part to tap into the more robust recruiting market there.”

Neumont is looking to expand to the East Coast because Utah is too far for many potential students, Levine said. Providence is an attractive location because of its large supply of vacant office space, relatively low cost-of-living for the region and its pool of potential adjunct faculty, he said. He argued the support form Kroll and other local industry leaders shows there is an unmet need for targeted IT training locally.

“There’s no ambiguity about what we do,” Levine said. “It’s learning for outcome. What’s the outcome? The outcome is to launch a cool career. Our guys come from high school, spend two and a half years [learning] and are employed at graduation earning $63,000 a year average. It is documented. It’s on those offer letters. We measure it. We audit it.”

“The promise is unambiguous and very focused, and we have organized ourselves to deliver on that promise,” he said. “We have an advantage. It’s strategic. We’ve made a commitment to do one thing. It is to provide an educational program that allows the student to learn the hard and soft skills that will make them very effective immediately in a software development environment.”

Levine strongly disputed comparions of Neumont with the ill-fated Katharine Gibbs School, which left students high and dry when it closed up shop before they’d completed their degrees. Neumont educates students fresh out of high school and 68% of those who enroll get a four-year degree, while Gibbs educated adults trying to change careers, he said. Most graduate with about $50,000 in debt, he said.

Levine noted that Neumont will pay taxes as a for-profit organization, unlike other Providence schools such as Brown and Johnson & Wales – alluding to a major concern of the Taveras administration. And he described his university as being part of a wave of change in higher education amid soaring costs and unemployed liberal-arts graduates.

“We are a new delivery model in a traditional kind of package,” Levine said.

(photo: Neumont University)

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