2017 graduate James Kozusko plans to be an accountant, so it’s not surprising he did the math when the governor’s signature initiative of the state budget – two years of free tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island – became available on Aug. 3.
Kozusko had already applied to attend Rhode Island College and he still plans to attend RIC, but with two free years at CCRI he could end up with the same degree and saving $17,000.
“It was a lot better idea. I would have been stupid not to do it,” Kozusko said Thursday, the first day of registration for the program. What Kozusko and a handful of other high school graduates hadn’t counted on was being in the vortex of news media attention as Gov. Gina Raimondo visited registration.
Raimondo disregarded a podium from where she could have made remarks, preferring to stop at tables where aspiring CCRI students reviewed with college staff course offerings that might best fit their career objectives. She stopped to encourage Kozusko.
“It’s not too shabby…you’ll get all the same value for half the price,” she told him.
Kozusko told her he hadn’t planned on CCRI. “It was a last minute decision.”
Most of the students Raimondo talked with had a career goal and had not planned on CCRI.
Chariho graduate Katelinn Tefft was an exception. She planned to enlist in the Army with the thought of becoming a tank mechanic when her mother, Terry Gillan, suggested she try college and see how it works out. Now Tefft plans to take courses in law enforcement, although she may still go into the military.
By 10:30 a.m. Thursday fewer than 50 had registered, said Sarah Enright, vice president of student affairs, who was overseeing the process.
Significantly reduced in scope from what Raimondo first proposed with RIC and URI students also being eligible for two years of free tuition – their junior and senior years – the Rhode Island Promise scholarship applies only to 2017 high school graduates who are 19 years old or younger. They must register for a full load of courses and they must register by Aug. 25 to be eligible for free CCRI tuition. They cannot decide to wait until the next semester to have the tuition waived, explained Enright.
The college is planning for 200 additional students because of the program. No full-time faculty are being added at this time.
“We’re going deep into adjuncts,” Enright said. As classes fill up, more classes will be added. Class sizes would remain about the same without overcrowding, she said.
She also called the program a “last dollar scholarship,” meaning Pell grants and other forms of financial assistance students are eligible to receive would first be applied to the CCRI tuition, which is $4,128 per year for in-state students, before the state share kicks in. Enright estimated about 40 percent of full-time CCRI students receive Pell grants.
Enright believes one of the greatest benefits of the state scholarship is that it alters the concept that college isn’t affordable and is dismissed.
“I’m hopeful people take advantage of the opportunity,” she said.
The state budget provides $2.75 million for the first year of the program. To remain eligible, students must maintain a 2.5 grade point average or higher. They are not required to remain in the state for two years, as first proposed. Historically, 90 percent of CCRI grads remain in state, as the governor pointed out.