In the first State of the State address of her second term at the State House on Tuesday night, Governor Gina Raimondo proposed an expansion of the Rhode Island Promise scholarship program to Rhode Island College, to make the last two years of a four-year degree tuition-free.
"Most RIC graduates stay in Rhode Island. They're our teachers, our nurses, our IT technicians that keep our economy going," said Raimondo. However, she added that the challenge for the state is that, "too many students start at RIC, but can't finish because they can't juggle a full course load and two or three jobs to cover tuition."
Raimondo's proposal, she emphasized, is a "smart investment" that "will change lives, strengthen our economy and help us fulfill our obligation to ensure that every Rhode Islander can get a good job."
"If we do this," she said, "Rhode Island College will arguably offer the most affordable four-year degree in America."
The proposal would cover the final two years of in-state tuition and mandatory fees for four-year, first-time undergraduate students who are enrolled full-time and meet any new and existing eligibility requirements as determined by the Governor and General Assembly. This would mark the next phase of Rhode Island Promise, which was launched in 2017 as a two-year scholarship for associate’s degree students at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI).
Rhode Island College President Frank D. Sánchez was enthusiastic in his support of the expansion. “If approved, this would be transformational for thousands of the state’s residents who seek to improve their quality of life through education,” he said. “This will create a more accessible pathway for students who demonstrate persistence, hard work and determination to reach the finish line of a four-year degree. We look forward to working with Governor Raimondo and the General Assembly to expand the affordable higher education opportunities available to Rhode Island students.”
Though a final plan – including terms, funding and eligibility requirements – will require approval from the state legislature, the Governor’s initial proposal would expand Rhode Island Promise beginning with students who enrolled at Rhode Island College in the fall of 2017. Using the eligibility requirements for the existing CCRI program as a guide, Rhode Island College estimates that the expansion would include more than 300 currently enrolled sophomores in the initial cohort.
President Sánchez emphasized that while it is too early to tell precisely what impact the expansion would have on Rhode Island College or exactly how many students would benefit, the governor’s proposal nonetheless represents an important effort to enhance the college’s ability to meet the state’s workforce development needs. Sánchez was also effusive in his praise for Governor Raimondo and state leaders for their willingness to invest in Rhode Island College.
“Our leaders have sent a clear message that higher education is a top priority and Rhode Island College is essential in driving the state’s future,” he said. “If approved, the expansion of Rhode Island Promise will reinforce our status as a first-choice institution for Rhode Islanders seeking to advance themselves through higher education. On behalf of the entire Rhode Island College community, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Governor Raimondo for her leadership on this issue, and to encourage the General Assembly make this Promise come true for Rhode Island’s students.”