“I want to go to college, but low-income students like me have to rely on student loans that don’t even cover the full price,” said Jayleen Salcedo, a senior at Classical High School and a member of the Providence Student Union (PSU), “In my specific situation, I plan on attending college next year at Rhode Island College, even though I have about an $8000 gap to make up after financial aid. I’ll be okay for the first few months, but after that, I’m just praying it works out. I shouldn’t have to pray college works out.”
Salcedo was speaking in the rotunda of the Rhode Island State House to nearly 75 fellow students and community members in support of increasing, “college access, equity and affordability.”
Participants in the rally, which started in room 101 of the State House before moving to the Bell Room and ultimately to the rotunda, chanted, “We want college to get more knowledge” before heading into the Senate and House chambers to lobby their legislators. Youth from the Providence Student Union, Blackstone Academy, Young Voices, the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and elsewhere were joined by students, parents, educators, and representatives from the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, the RIC/AFT Faculty Union, the RIC Professional Staff Association (AFT) and the RIC Adjuncts Union (AFT).
Retired Providence Public Schools teacher Carole Marshall noted the “enormous potential in our students,” adding, “But that potential is wasted if the state doesn’t invest what would amount to just a small portion of the budget to help them make it to the finish line. Our state legislators need to understand the financial challenges our students face in college. Given the high cost and stress of financing college, I see it as a miracle when any one of them makes it through to graduation.”
Putting the costs of college in historical perspective, Quenby Hughes, history professor and alumna of Rhode Island College, and President of the RIC/AFT Faculty Union said that, “Rhode Island College was free to Rhode Islanders for more than one hundred years of its history. Even with the Rhode Island Promise plan, Rhode Island students will still be paying more for two years of Rhode Island College than their peers did for four, just a couple of decades ago. Rhode Island is currently 48th in the nation in the percent of tax revenues allocated to higher education. The Rhode Island Promise Program is crucial for restoring public funding for higher education in Rhode Island, and for supporting the success of our students, our citizens, and our future.”
Governor Gina Raimondo‘s Rhode Island Promise plan would cost the state $30 million a year and would pay for two years tuition and mandatory fees at CCRI, or for tuition and fees for students’ junior and senior years at URI or RIC.
Organizers pointed to three statistics that highlight the urgency of college affordability in Rhode Island:
- In Rhode Island, nearly 25 percent of high school graduates who want to go to college can’t, most often because of money. — RIDE Survey 2016
- “Rhode Island has large gaps in college completion between low-income and higher-income students, with 29 percent of low-income students completing college within six years, compared to 59 percent of higher-income students.” — 2017 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook
- The average Rhode Island student graduates with about $35 thousand in debt, the second highest debt burden in the United Sstates. — LendEDU 2016