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Raimondo prioritizes free tuition in campaign

Governor plans to expand college affordability program Rhode Island Promise to URI, RIC

In the 2018 Rhode Island gubernatorial race, Gov. Gina Raimondo has spearheaded college affordability with the proposed expansion of her key initiative, Rhode Island Promise. Her toughest opponent in the race, Republican Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, does not make a mention of the issue on his platform.

Rhode Island Promise currently provides two years of free tuition to students entering the Community College of Rhode Island who meet certain requirements. The plan requires students to be recent high school graduates, take full-time classes and maintain at least a 2.5 GPA. The governor’s original proposal from 2017 intended to guarantee two years of free college for in-state students attending the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College, as well as CCRI, The Herald previously reported.

While the full extent of this proposal was rejected by the legislature, in her re-election campaign Raimondo has reiterated her commitment to expanding the free tuition plan. Her full campaign promise includes making the last two years of school at RIC and URI free for recent high school graduates who sustain a good academic record and can graduate in four years. She has also promised to offer free tuition to all adults studying at CCRI, according to her campaign website. The proposal is estimated to cost around $35 million, according to the Providence Journal.

On Sept. 18, Nick Mattiello, speaker of the House, questioned the program’s impact thus far and Raimondo’s plans for its expansion, according to Go Local Prov. The state is currently grappling with a $200 million deficit, he said, adding that the initiative could exacerbate its fiscal woes.

While some may remain skeptical of her ability to expand Rhode Island Promise, “in terms of funding for the expansion of RI Promise to RIC and URI as well as adults at CCRI, the Governor will find room in the budget, just like she did for the current Rhode Island Promise program, and present a balanced budget to the legislature,” wrote Emily Samsel,  the communications director for the Rhode Island Democratic Party, in an email to The Herald.

The expansion of Rhode Island Promise has been met with support from the education community in Rhode Island. “We need to do more to make college accessible and affordable to all students, especially those who feel like it’s out of reach because of circumstances beyond their control,” wrote Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education in Rhode Island Ken Wagner in an email to The Herald. “By extending Promise to RIC and URI, … we could keep more students on track to graduate college and keep those students here in Rhode Island,” he added.

Dean Libutti, vice provost for enrollment management at URI, also highlighted the motivation the program could provide to students. “It provides an incentive for students to work hard; it would certainly help more students stay on track” to graduate from college, he said, especially as “students and families (are) concerned about loan debt and that increasing cost of college.”

CCRI reported an increase of 47 percent in the number of full-time students enrolled just after graduating high school since the start of Rhode Island Promise. Supporters of Rhode Island Promise cite the increase in enrollment as a key sign of the program’s success. “We’ve seen already a positive enrollment increase at CCRI, and I think extending Promise would have a similar effect on RIC and URI,” Wagner said.

The College Crusade of Rhode Island, a college readiness and scholarship program for students in low-income areas, has a similar take on the governor’s plan. President and CEO of The College Crusade Andrew Bramson said the program is beneficial not only because it has increased community college attendence but because it “communicates the fact that there is a college seat waiting for every student in Rhode Island that wants to work for it.” He added that “the impact of the program availability is just as important as the attendance.”

Candidates in the gubernatorial race place different emphasis on the issue of college affordability. Mayor Fung makes no mention of the issue on his campaign website, and did not respond to a request for comment on the issue by press time. Under his plans for Rhode Island’s future, he highlights veterans affairs, economic development and government reform.


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