Students at Rhode Island's public colleges and universities may soon see a tuition increase of $100 as part of a measure to raise funds for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority. A bill currently under discussion in the Rhode Island Senate Finance Committee would assess a $50 per-semester public transportation fee on students, a measure that has raised concerns in the state's higher education community.
"With increased tuition and a weak economy, we think this would be a burden on students and unnecessary," said Mike Trainor, special assistant to the commissioner of the Board of Governors for Higher Education. He added that each of the three public universities - University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island - already has a system for charging students for public transportation, so the bill would be "redundant."
The board will discuss the bill at its next meeting May 7 to determine its collective opinion and whether to grant a motion to officially oppose the bill.
Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston, the primary sponsor of this bill, as well as the co-sponsors - Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Little Compton, Middletown, Newport and Tiverton; Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-New Shoreham, South Kingstown; Sen. Paul Jabour, D-Providence and Sen. Daniel DaPonte, D-East Providence andPawtucket - did not respond to The Herald's requests for comment.
URI students can currently purchase weekly or monthly RIPTA passes at a discounted price. But the university's Providence campus offers free parking for students, so many elect not to purchase public transportation passes, said Gail Harvey, president of the student government board for URI's Providence campus."They got a nerve," she said of the senators who proposed the bill.
"The fee would affect every student on campus but only positively affect the few who use (RIPTA passes)," said Stephanie Segal, the student senate president at URI. Almost the entire student senate opposes the bill, she noted.
CCRI, like URI, offers students discounted RIPTA passes, which are partially funded through a commuting and parking fee included in tuition. RIC levies a $15 fee per semester to cover transportation costs.
Trainor said one RIC student called the board's office favoring the bill due to sustainability and environmental concerns, but otherwise the board has not seen much public comment.
The bill is "well-intentioned in light of RIPTA's fiscal troubles," Trainor said, but it could "hurt students at a time of declining state support and increased tuition."