The Big Brand Theory
Rhode Island’s colleges and universities are feverishly marketing themselves to a shrinking number of freshmen. But is it worth the investment? And once they graduate, will they stay?
By Alyssa Giacobbe
Photographs by Alex Gagne
I applied to college in the mid-’90s, back when applications were $20 and done on — old person alert! — paper. Though I was indiscriminate enough to apply to ten schools, not a single one was in the state of Rhode Island. I might have had no idea what I wanted or, really, who I was, but I knew I didn’t want to stay here. I wanted to see the world! I ended up all the way in Maine.
Back then, if you were going to stick around Rhode Island, your options were clear, if limited. You went to Rhode Island College because you wanted to be a teacher. You went to Bryant because you were planning on going into the family business. You went to Brown because you could. If you went to the flagship, the University of Rhode Island, you pretty much did so for one of three reasons: Because you weren’t all that jazzed about college but someone was making you go; because Mrs. Auger, the guidance counselor so aggressively pro-URI some of us suspected she sidelined as a recruiter, practically filled out your application for you; or because it was cheap.
URI wasn’t exactly a last resort — it was near the beach, after all — but it wasn’t most people’s first choice. “I just remember feeling like there was a stigma attached to staying local,” says Warwick native Jamie Narcessian, whose parents offered to buy her a place in Narragansett as an incentive for choosing URI over the University of New Hampshire, where she ended up instead in the fall of 1994. “In hindsight it would’ve been so worth my while to stay in Rhode Island, especially because URI and UNH were probably similar schools, but I just thought it was ‘cooler’ to leave.” URI was safe, like marrying your high school boyfriend. I didn’t know anyone who applied who didn’t get in.
Other stories in our September Schools issue:
High School Report Card — We rank the state's high schools