The promise that Governor Gina Raimondo had continuously made to provide free college tuition for Rhode Islanders became a reality last week when the state Senate finally approved the FY18 budget more than a month into the new fiscal year, which in turn approved a $2.75 million allotment for the “Rhode Island Promise” scholarship program.
Starting this fall, Rhode Island residents who are under 19 and completed high school or received their GED within the past year will be eligible to apply for the scholarship, which will cover all tuition and related fees at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) to go towards a two-year associate’s degree, regardless of their income.
The only other requirements are that students must take a fulltime course load of at least 30 credits each semester for both years and must maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average.
Although the program was largely scaled back into a two-year pilot version of what Raimondo had originally intended – which included free tuition for juniors and seniors at the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College – it remains a historic step towards free, in-state college education, and is the first program of its kind in New England, and the fourth state to do so, following Nevada, New York and Oregon.
“Our college is thrilled that the groundbreaking Rhode Island Promise program will be moving forward this fall at CCRI. We believe every high school student in Rhode Island deserves a chance to earn the degree or credential they need to begin a high-quality career right here in Rhode Island,” said CCRI President Meghan Hughes, in a statement.
CCRI will be hosting two “Enrollment Days,” from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Aug 10 and Aug 17 in Room 1040 at the Knight Campus in Warwick to assist students who wish to take advantage of the program. Representatives from the admissions and financial aid offices will be there to help students fill out applications for the FAFSA and the college itself, in addition to taking placement tests and registering for fall classes.
Interested students who cannot attend either of the enrollment days can also apply online, or contact the Advising and Counseling Center at 825-1240 or by email at email@example.com. The priority deadline to apply is Aug 25.
Although students will lose access to the scholarship should they not maintain a 2.5 GPA, they will be able to re-earn the scholarship the following semester if they climb back to a 2.5. So, for example, if a student only got a 2.4 GPA in the fall semester, they would have to pay for the spring semester. If they got a 2.5 cumulative GPA during the spring, they could access free tuition again the following Fall semester. However if a student fails to achieve 30 credits during a full year, they will lose access to the scholarship and not be able to earn it for the second year of their tuition.
The Rhode Island Department of Education does not yet have information available about where students from the class of 2017 will be attending college, and individual districts collect this information anecdotally, so it is unclear how many incoming freshmen will be seeking a free education at CCRI come this fall. More will be known after CCRI holds their information sessions.
According to Patrick Stone, director of marketing, communications and publications for CCRI, the college estimates that they will have between 1,200 and 1,300 students apply for the scholarship – which amounts to 200 more incoming students than estimates for previous years. Stone said that increase is a direct result of the availability of the new scholarship.
The normal cost of tuition at CCRI is $4,148 per year for in state students. The Rhode Island Promise is a “last dollar” scholarship, meaning that any financial aid, such as Pell grants and other scholarships, will be used first. Rhode Island Promise will cover any leftover cost for eligible students.
Stone said that a vast majority of students who attend CCRI already utilize some form of financial aid, and that the school isn’t concerned at all about overspending the state’s budget allotment.
“We are reading, willing and able to accommodate the new students,” he said. “We're excited and we're positive it’s going to make a good impact.”
Stone said that CCRI educates more Rhode Islanders than any other school in the state. CCRI has an annual enrollment of about 15,000 students. According to Stone, 90 percent of CCRI graduates from the class of 2015 have stayed in Rhode Island, either pursuing more education or working within the state economy.
“Which is why this is such a great investment in the future of Rhode Island,” Stone said. “Nobody is training more employees and employers, the backbone of the Rhode Island economy, than CCRI. This program is a long term investment in the state.”