Will a new medical school open its doors in Rhode Island and might that be in Warwick? On Tuesday, the House voted to pass a bill that would permit a proposed for-profit medical school to go before the Board of Governors for Higher Education, a process all for-profit educational institutions must undergo in order to grant academic degrees.
Businessman Steven Roger, president of R3 Education in Devens, Mass., is proposing the school. R3 has three other osteopathic schools in the British West Indies, the Caribbean and Cayman Islands, all of which are accredited by the same institutions that accredit universities like Brown, said Jenn Bramley, spokeswoman for R3.
Roger says the proposed Rhode Island School of Osteopathic Medicine would provide both short and long-term benefits to the state.
"The school will … bolster the local economy with millions in private investment,” he said in a statement. “In the near term, the Rhode Island School of Osteopathic Medicine will provide stimulus to Rhode Island's construction industry. Over the long term, the school expects to create 200 to 300 permanent, high-paying jobs and will provide support to the state as a taxpaying citizen. The school community, made up of students, faculty, administrators and others, will play a vital role in Rhode Island.”
In an interview yesterday, Roger said he has chosen Rhode Island because he is familiar with the state, and because of its close proximity to other major hubs on the eastern seaboard. Roger sees the small size of Rhode Island as a benefit – a means for a closer relationship with the state government and community. He said property values and other numerical factors are “particularly attractive.”
“It’s my first choice,” said Roger of Rhode Island. “We’re very excited.”
Rep. Joseph McNamara, chair of the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare, is a proponent of the school. He said the prospect of job creation is an opportunity he doesn’t want to slip away.
“In this economy, in my eyes, it’s about jobs,” said McNamara. He said the institution would have a “multiplier effect” that will encourage students to rent and buy homes while building trade and the health care industry. The school, which would build a new facility, would not build housing, a move McNamara said could help the local real estate market.
In addition, Bramley said the college has committed to admitting as many Rhode Island students as legally permitted.
Tuition at the school would run about $125,000 for four years, approximately 42 percent less than the Brown Medical School.
Those who oppose the school are concerned the quality of education a for-profit institute, who must cater to the interest of investors, would be second rate.
Daniel Egan, president of the Rhode Island Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said the state has recognized a 30-year higher education policy on for-profit institutions, and doesn’t want to see the welfare and educational standards of students jeopardized. He said there is a national crackdown on for-profit institutions, and is curious as to why Rhode Island would open its doors to one.
“The for-profit sector is predatory in nature,” said Egan, who notes that more students at for-profit colleges default on their loans than those at non-profit institutions.
Egan also questions the quality of this institution specifically, because its sister schools are located outside of the U.S.
Roger said he’s unsure why people are comparing a school that doesn’t exist yet to Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School.
“I don’t run Brown,” he said. “I think Brown is an excellent institution.”
But, he said, COCA (The Commission on Osteopathic College and Accreditation) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the same association that accredits Brown, would have to accredit Roger’s proposed school before its doors open.
“We have to adhere to high standards,” he said.
And as for the interest of investors affecting those standards?
“A better institution is more popular,” said Roger.
The school would be housed in a new 250,000-square-foot building, and although a location hasn’t been ironed out, Roger said Warwick is high on the list of possible locations due to its proximity to mass transit. The city is looking to develop the station district and the MBTA recently stepped up service to the Interlink with an extension of rail service to Wickford Junction.
The next step for the proposed medical school is passage in the Senate. From there it would go to the Board of Governors for Higher Education and undergo what External Affairs Officer Michael Trainor calls an “extensive and comprehensive” vetting process.
“We’ll study both the academic and financial sides,” he said. Eventually, the proposed school would go before the full Board for a vote. The timeframe for the process, said Trainor, is hard to estimate.
“It’s certainly not a brief process,” he said.
McNamara cannot recall the last time a for-profit institution applied to be vetted by the Board of Governors. There are currently no for-profit colleges or universities in Rhode Island.
In addition to job creation and economic stimulus, McNamara said the school will help address a possible future primary care physician shortage.
“Currently, 28 percent of Rhode Island’s practicing physicians are ages 60 and older,” said McNamara. “In the next five to 10 years, we will be experiencing a shortage of primary care physicians in the state.”
Egan does not believe allowing a for-profit school to open in Rhode Island will help with the projected physician shortage.
“The shortage of doctors is due to the reimbursement rates in Rhode Island, nothing else,” he said. “To think otherwise is shortsighted.”
Roger’s statement applauded the House for passing the bill.
“We commend the Rhode Island House of Representatives for their support, today,” he said in a statement. “The members recognize the exciting educational opportunity along with the significant economic opportunity that the RI School of Osteopathic Medicine brings to the state.”
“This is good for the economy as well as health care in the state,” said McNamara. “Hopefully it will be passed by the Senate.”