Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo will announce a new program this week that offers local students in good academic standing two years of free tuition at any of the state’s public colleges, according to The Providence Journal.
“I want the people of Rhode Island to have a chance,” the governor said. “It’s also time to give middle-class families a break. Everybody is stressed about how they are going to pay for college. We have the money. This is affordable. It’s a smart solution.”
The program—called the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship—would benefit students at the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island. Students entering CCRI after graduating from high school would be eligible for two years of free tuition and waived mandatory fees.
Students at RIC and URI, four-year institutions, would be eligible for similar assistance during their junior and senior years, making their last two years essentially free (room and board would not be covered). This would encourage undergraduates to continue in their studies until they earned their degrees. The on-time graduation rate at URI is only 49 percent, and just 14 percent at RIC.
“A lot of people drop out because of affordability,” the governor said. “If you’re going to RIC and you’re a student and you’re working two or three jobs, it gets really hard. It’s hard to stay at it and it’s hard to graduate. What we’re saying is: You go for the two years and we’ll take care of the next two years.”
Additionally, those who don’t drop out are still probably going to enter a tough situation. Oftentimes, students max out their federal aid options; if they don’t leave school, they are forced to take out student loans from other place such as a private bank. This only leads to more debt and, sometimes, more confusion.
According to a study last year by LendEDU, recent RIC graduates left school with an average of $26,624 in loan debt, with URI graduates burdened by an average of $32,587. When all of the state’s public and private colleges were included, Rhode Island had the second-highest loan debt of any state, with Connecticut having the highest.
While states like Tennessee and Oregon offer their resident students free tuition at select colleges—such as community and technology schools—Rhode Island would be among the first in the nation to provide free tuition to students attending any of its public colleges, regardless of family income. The annual cost of the program would be $30 million, which would be phased in over a four-year period.
The governor pointed out that this program will benefit not only students, but also the state’s local businesses. “Almost every day, I hear from businesses that their number-one concern is finding a skilled workforce. And so my message to these businesses, large and small, is ‘we hear you and we’re going to send you our best and brightest by making college affordable.’ “
The Rhode Island Promise Scholarship will be open all resident students who enroll at a state college within six months of graduating high school or earning a GED prior to reaching the age of 19. Public, private and home-schooled graduates would all be eligible.
The governor is expected to release more information about the program this week.
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