Fantastic story published recently in the Providence Business news about New England Tech’s history and more importantly its future plans.
By Patricia Daddona
PBN Staff Writer
Richard I. Gouse, president of the New England Institute of Technology for the past 43 years, is leading a new phase of growth at the commuter-based school to accommodate residential students.
NEIT has two Warwick campuses, and a third on 226 acres in East Greenwich. It is at the larger campus that plans for a $120 million expansion announced in early October are beginning to unfold.
It’s all a long way from where the school was in 1971, when Gouse and his late father, Julian, revived the failing New England Technical Institute founded by Ernest Earle in 1940.
“When I started in 1971, we were located in an old mill in South Providence,” he said. “It was pretty grim.”
By 1976, Gouse had broadened the mission of the school, turning it into the nonprofit, degree-granting college it is today.
Now, as the school continues to develop programming for more than 3,000 students, plans spanning the next three years will provide more than 300,000 square feet of new facilities, including a first-ever, 400-plus-room, on-campus dormitory, more classroom space, and a greater focus on information technology.
PBN: You’ve been president since 1971, when there were just four programs of study and 70 students. What potential did you see for this school then?
GOUSE: It was obvious that the hands-on technologies were becoming more sophisticated even in 1971, and if we wanted to grow in that direction of training people who were going to be able to perform in the job market, I thought we needed something more. That’s when I thought of making this into a college where the students could get a liberal arts background and get a chance to become a little more sophisticated.
PBN: What do you think a liberal arts or undergraduate degree adds to the technical skills?
GOUSE: As we all can see, technology is moving at the speed of light; things are changing very quickly. In order to be successful, you have to be able to grow and develop in your profession. And a liberal arts degree, which teaches a student to research, to grow, has become essential.
PBN: Where are you attracting students from?
GOUSE: Well, it’s a commuting school. That’s good and it also has its limitations. What we’re doing is addressing the limitations.
Right now, we’re [attracting] Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island [students]. We’re getting a lot more interest than we ever did before from outside of the state, even foreign countries, because of the uniqueness of some of the programs that we offer. And that really has moved us into that expansion mode.
The only way this school can expand, given the demographics of the immediate area, is to attract people from outside the immediate area.
We have a growing, older demographic in Rhode Island, we have declining [numbers of] high school graduates in Rhode Island and we have no growth in population. So if you want to stay at 2,900 or 3,000 students, we probably could, but if we want to expand and grow, it’s going to have to be from outside the immediate area. And that’s why we’re [adding] housing.
PBN: How will the relationship between the East Greenwich and two Warwick campuses evolve as you undergo this $120 million expansion?
GOUSE: This all began in 2007. We started planning for this development, and our initial thoughts were that we would bring everything to this campus.
PBN: Obviously, you didn’t build this building [on the East Greenwich campus], Brooks Pharmacy did, but did you have plans before that?
GOUSE: We were planning on locating a campus. We were in Warwick; that was fine for what we thought we were doing at that point, but when it came to a thought of expanding, we were landlocked.
One of the main parts of our planning back then was the ability to sell the Post Road campus. What happened in 2008 is, the real estate market fell apart, and our ability to sell became limited.
So, we kind of crept back into that Post Road facility. Eventually, we’d like to be all on one campus, but economically, the right thing to do is to still use that facility. And the square footage we have there now we need; we’re using it.
PBN: You’ve talked about expansion as an idea; how does it fit into your long-range plan?
GOUSE: The whole expansion plan is really a move toward allowing the students to have the more traditional college experience, as well as still concentrating on the commuting student. This changes the student’s experience entirely. It will allow for extracurricular athletics on campus, the living experience. Hopefully, it will appeal to a whole new group of people – although our students that are presently commuting are also very enthusiastic about this kind of development. I think they would really appreciate the identification of this school in the general public as being a true university.
PBN: How much housing are you building?
GOUSE: There are two stages, the first with 400 beds. And we’re presently housing through a cooperative effort with our housing coordinator off campus.
PBN: Besides attracting out-of-state and foreign students, are there other rationales for expanding now?
GOUSE: Just the addition of other programs that we think would be really valuable. We’re constantly in touch with the employers in this area. We have an extensive technical advisory committee [of] 300 people. We want to hear from them about new programs and what changes we need in existing programs.
PBN: What’s the time frame for the expansion?
GOUSE: [For] the first part of it, there’s going to be an expansion in this building that’s going to occur in the spring. [But] because the 220 acres needs roadways, we have wetlands that we’ve got provision to cross, so we have to bridge the wetlands, we have to bring in sewer, water and electricity. That’s a $4 million job that’s being done right now. That will enable future expansion. And there’s a $15 million addition to this building that is going to begin in the spring. Sometime in the fall of 2015, there’ll be [construction of] the dormitories, which are supposed to be ready in the fall of 2017.
PBN: How important is it to try and stylistically match what you have here?
GOUSE: Very important. You do want a lasting, appealing campus and that’s where we’re headed. The architecture is critical to tie it all together – not necessarily have it look all the same, but have a feel that it all belongs together. While you were right in remembering this building being Brooks, what happened was Rite-Aid bought Brooks in 2007. This building had been built with a shell inside that really wasn’t a finished interior.
PBN: You’re expanding offerings in information technology, advanced manufacturing, sciences, architecture, engineering, video and audio production. What is demand like?
GOUSE: Rhode Island’s an interesting place, OK? We talk about a skills gap, but what we really do need is more high-tech jobs.
During the recession it was actually challenging for our kids even in IT to find the jobs they were looking for in Rhode Island. We would like to see more good jobs coming into Rhode Island, and hopefully there will be.
Right now, [more than] 90 percent of our students seeking jobs are getting jobs within a short time after they graduate – in fact most of them before they graduate – but I would like to see more good companies coming into Rhode Island, more employment possibilities. I think that’s really very important.
But if we expand into housing, we will be getting students from outside this area. And then it becomes more of a function of what the employability is for where they’re going to be going. The biggest problem here isn’t that the colleges aren’t providing enough talent for the local business community. The biggest challenge here is to have more opportunities for these students.
PBN: You have a new online RN-to-BSN program: Do you plan more online programming? Or is this designed to fill an unmet need?
GOUSE: Let’s talk about the RN-to-BSN program first. The field of nursing is moving away from associate degree-level nurses. They’re really looking to have a more sophisticated, better-trained level of nursing, and that’s where the BSN comes in. The hospitals are asking nurses to get to this level. [The program] received accreditation less than a year ago. The tuition rate is far lower than an on-campus program; it offers a lot for those people looking to make that move.
In general, it really benefits the students to come here and have an on-the-job-type environment, working with the actual equipment. For audio-video production, we have two HD television studios; it’s very hard to teach that on the Internet.
But we [also] offer a hybrid program where the students can come here on a more flexible schedule and actually get the lab experience, that hands-on job environment training, but then take a lot of their courses on a distance-learning basis.
PBN: How are you financing the expansion?
GOUSE: The school has not to this point done a real lot of borrowing. I think we have outstanding about $49 million for this building and the other campuses. And by the time this expansion happens, we hope our endowment will be in the neighborhood of $200 million. Between bonding and our endowment, we will at least be able to fund this portion of our expansion.
PBN: Will there be an impact on tuition?
PBN: Any plans to expand master’s degrees?
GOUSE: We’ve just received approval for our third master’s degree. It’s in construction management. And … the New England Association [of Schools and Colleges], our accrediting body, they require you to apply for the first, second and third master’s degree. After that, you can apply to be exempted from making further applications. So, that’s what we plan on doing a year from now. The construction-management degree will be offered in the spring.
PBN: So how long did it take you to design this program?
GOUSE: It probably took a year.
STEVE KITCHIN: [NEIT’s vice president of corporate education and training]: About 22 years ago the hospital association said, ‘Look, things are changing in the operating room; we don’t need two nurses; we only need one.’ Within the time that we had that conversation with the hospitals [to create surgical technology programming]: we had labs built, curriculum developed, we had staff hired – within six months.
If we’re not keeping our ears to the ground about the demand side of the labor market, we’re not doing our job here. Everything we’re doing here is based on demand-side economics and preparing our kids to meet that demand. Richard has built an environment here where we all feel very entrepreneurial.
PBN: So you’ve been here 43 years. What more do you envision for the school … and the expansion?
GOUSE: It probably will take me the next 43 years! There’s a lot of things to be done. And that [rendering of the campus layout] is a 50-year plan. If you’re going to have a true college experience, you’re going to have to have all of the things that the kids want and dormitories alone won’t do that. You’re going to have to have an athletic program; a more aggressive extracurricular program.
PBN: Now, you don’t have another 43 years to complete the vision, but have you thought about succession planning?
GOUSE: I do believe the best kind of succession program is when you develop talent within the organization. I’m not a tremendous fan of doing a nationwide search for people who look like they’d be the right fit – especially when you have a unique culture, which we do have here.
So, we have a number of people here who are hopefully moving up and I think they all buy into the kind of culture that we have here, which is important. That’s where I hope we’ll find the talent for the future. •