Governor Gina M. Raimondo today at the Ministers Alliance of Rhode Island’s 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast, announced a historic proposal to knock down the financial barriers to obtaining a college degree by providing two years of free college to all Rhode Islanders.
Raimondo’s free-college plan, Rhode Island’s Promise, guarantees two years of free college for every Rhode Island student at who graduates on time from the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island, beginning with high school seniors who graduate this spring.
“Rhode Island’s Promise honors our commitment to Rhode Island students who are asking for nothing more than a fair chance,” Governor Raimondo said, speaking to hundreds of people who attended the Ministers Alliance of Rhode Island’s 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast. “When I was my children’s age, most jobs in Rhode Island required nothing more than high school degree. But for all of our kids, that’s not the case anymore. The reality is most jobs being created now in Rhode Island will require some degree or certificate beyond a high school diploma. We are going to stand up and make the college dream a reality for every Rhode Islander who wants it.”
The Governor’s free-college plan covers the entire cost of tuition and mandatory fees for full-time students who qualify for in-state tuition earning an associate’s degree at CCRI. At RIC and URI, the scholarship will cover tuition and fees for a student’s junior and senior years.
“Governor Raimondo has proposed a historic education program that will provide students and their families with an even greater potential to achieve their dreams,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “The Rhode Island Promise Scholarship is truly innovative in that it is designed to accelerate the number of students completing degree programs while also significantly cutting the cost of their education. As I promote the University of Rhode Island and the state around the globe I am confident the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship will be the program that distinguishes our state as an education leader committed to the success of its entire citizenry.”
Rhode Island’s Promise will be a significant step in helping young Rhode Islanders to get a college degree. Almost 90 percent of Rhode Island 12th graders say that they plan to attend college, yet less than two thirds of students enroll. At the same time, there is an immediate need for more Rhode Islanders to obtain a higher education. More than 70 percent of jobs in Rhode Island will require a postsecondary degree in the coming years, yet less than half of the state’s adult population currently has a degree beyond high school.
“Having a college degree is a critical component to achieving economic success,” said Rhode Island College President Frank D. Sanchez. “The Rhode Island Promise Scholarship proposed by Governor Raimondo will significantly increase access to a college education for Rhode Islanders, providing greater social mobility for all students and, in turn, helping to drive our state’s economy. Eighty percent of Rhode Island College’s graduates stay, live and work in Rhode Island. We wholeheartedly support any effort to expand access to postsecondary education and fill the gap many students face when trying to afford tuition.”
Currently, the increased cost of higher education discourages many from attending college or prevents them from completing their course of study when they get there. Low-income students spend nearly 75 percent of their family’s income to cover the cost of college. Middle-class students spend more than a third of their family income. Nearly three out of four students take on debt to earn a degree. Students currently graduate from Rhode Island’s public colleges with an average debt of more than $35,000 – the second highest of any state.
“We know that our students face significant financial challenges that can stall or even stop their progress,” said Meghan Hughes, President of the Community College of Rhode Island. “By offering two years of free college to our state’s high school graduates, the Rhode Island’s Promise increases their ability to persist, complete their associate degrees and certificate programs, and pursue a bachelor’s degree and high-quality careers right here in Rhode Island.”
College debt is not just an issue for borrowers; it drags on the state’s economy by preventing Rhode Islanders from buying homes and starting small businesses. Concerns about high college costs keep college-qualified low-income students from applying and enrolling in college. Low income and first generation students lag behind their more advantaged peers in college enrollment by more than 30 percent.
“This initiative will set our state apart as having a skilled workforce that can meet the demands of the 21st economy,” said Barbara S. Cottam, chair of the state Board of Education. “It will also signal to our students that they will have the chance to achieve their dreams.”
The $30 million cost of the program will be paid for through new revenues made available as a result of economic growth and tough choices the State has made in recent years to get its fiscal house in order.