Last week, Gov. Gina Raimondo paid a visit to the students in Scott Maynard’s Government and Economics class at Cranston High School East.
The class is unusual in that it is a university-accredited course being offered through Rhode Island College. The students taking the class are earning college credits while simultaneously earning the high school credits needed for graduation.
The dual-enrollment program, formerly offered at a discounted college tuition rate, is now free to qualifying students enrolled in a public high school as part of Raimondo’s Prepare RI program, which seeks to continue the governor’s vision of preparing today’s students for college and careers.
As Raimondo spoke to the students in Maynard’s class, and asked them how many have taken other dual-enrollment classes in addition to their current class. Several raised their hands, and some students had taken multiple classes, earning many college credits while still in high school.
Raimondo asked the students about their goals, and emphasized the importance of attending, and completing, college in order to be qualified for their future careers.
“If you don’t get into college and finish college, it’s going to be very, very hard to get a good job,” she told the students. “You can work at Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s while you go to school, so that you can help pay for school, but I don’t want to see you doing that long term.”
Raimondo asked the students to share with her some of their goals for possible careers beyond high school. Among them were being a lawyer, a nurse practitioner, a marine biologist or oceanographer, and a brain surgeon.
The governor told the students that the Prepare RI program helps by making dual-enrollment classes free, and easing the burden of paying for college.
Raimondo also shared the details of another initiative, the Rhode Island’s Promise scholarship program, which aims to help close the gap between the cost of a college education in Rhode Island and the amount of funding a student is awarded.
“Many times you apply for financial aid and you receive a certain amount, and you qualify for grants and scholarships, but there is a gap between what you’ve been awarded and the amount of tuition,” Raimondo said. “A lot of times, that gap is what keeps people from being able to go to college. We don’t want you not to go to college because of that gap.”
The program offers Rhode Island colleges and universities flexibility in how much can be awarded to qualifying students, and Raimondo stated that thousands of students have already been able to take advantage of the program. The students must remain in good academic standing, and the program aims to help ease the burden for those who are working multiple minimum-wage jobs while going to school, allowing them to focus on classes, studying and community service instead.
“We want to take away the financial barriers,” Raimondo said. “This is real money and it’s a scholarship, not a loan, so you don’t have to pay it back the way you would a loan.”
Raimondo also cautioned the students to take the time, with the help of their guidance counselors, to find out which colleges and universities are the best value for the money they’re paying.
“Expensive doesn’t mean better, or better for you,” she said. “You don’t want to come out of school with a lot of loans to pay back, and no job. When you pay for college you’re buying something. You’re paying for a service, so be a value shopper.”
As she wrapped up her visit, Raimondo asked for a show of hands from the students as to how many would be the first in their families to go to college. Five of the students raised their hands. She told the story of her father who went to college on a GI bill, and how that decision not only changed his own life and career path, but affected his family in a positive way for generations to come, allowing each of his children and grandchildren to have a better life through the opportunities an education can provide.
“You will now be the first in your families, let that start with you,” she said.
State Sen. Hanna Gallo, who also sat in on the conversation, agreed, and reminded the students that starting on that path of going to college sooner than later pays off in the end.
“It’s a proven fact that students who get started in high school taking their college classes are likely to continue on to graduation because they’ve seen the impact that it’s made on lessening the cost of college for them and it puts them that much closer to graduating because of it,” Gallo said.
Raimondo shook hands with each student before leaving and as she left, she wished them luck in pursuing their future dreams.
“Be thoughtful, be focused on reality,” she said. “Graduate college!”
Cranston Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse and East Principal Sean Kelly were also on hand for the governor’s visit.