“We are going to stand up and make the college dream a reality for every Rhode Islander who wants it,” Raimondo is scheduled to say today at the 34th annual Ministers Alliance of Rhode Island’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast, according to a press release. “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.”
The Rhode Island Promise Scholarship would make the first two years at the Community College of Rhode Island free to all graduates of a Rhode Island high school. The third and fourth years at Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island would be free to anyone who graduated from a Rhode Island high school.
The proposal would cost approximately $30 million a year, according to the press release, which said “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.”
Based on an idea Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made popular during his upstart campaign for president last year, it would be the first of its kind in the United States. Raimondo would like it to be written into state law, WPRI reported, so that it wouldn’t be subject to annual budget politics.
The idea was roundly praised by the administrators of Rhode Island’s two public colleges and one university.
“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. “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.”
Said CCRI President said Meghan Hughes, “We know that our students face significant financial challenges that can stall or even stop their progress. 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.”
RIC President Frank D. Sanchez said the proposal “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.”
The press release said 90 percent of high school graduates plan to attend college but less than 66 percent actually enroll; meanwhile more than 70 percent of jobs in Rhode Island will require a college degree while less than 50 percent of adults have one.
“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,” according to the press release. “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.”