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Governor proposes expanding free college program

Two new measures would bring total cost of program to $13.2 million in next budget year

Gov. Gina Raimondo called on senators to increase funding for her free college tuition program during a Joint Finance and Education Senate Committee hearing Wednesday.

In her testimony, Raimondo requested that the state fund scholarships for the last two years of Rhode Island College for in-state students and grant free tuition and fees at the Community College of Rhode Island to all Rhode Islanders 25 years of age or older without a degree if they enroll continuously. If the governor’s plan were to be implemented, students would have to choose between CCRI or RIC.

These measures would build upon the governor’s 2017 Rhode Island Promise program, which made the first two years of tuition free at CCRI. With the new additions, the cost of the program would total $13.2 million in the next budget year.

Raimondo stressed the importance of retention and graduation rates for Rhode Island, noting that many students drop out after sophomore year due to financial strain. She added that her plan to reduce tuition costs would increase the graduation rate of Rhode Island students.

“This is about making sure the American Dream is within grasp of every Rhode Islander,” Raimondo said. “And we’re living in a world where it’s becoming almost impossible to get out of high school and go get a good job.”

Dan Egan, president of the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities of Rhode Island, which includes the University, testified in opposition to the governor’s plan. He argued that the plan would siphon off state funds that otherwise benefit Rhode Islanders attending private, in-state, non-profit institutions of higher education.

“They’re not being truthful about who they’re harming,” Egan said of the governor’s office.

Raimondo’s Senior Deputy Chief of Staff Kevin Gallagher explained that Raimondo’s proposal to cover the last two years of RIC tuition was “self-contained,” so it would not take from the fund for students attending private institutions as Egan suggested. “Anybody who currently has a state grant will keep it for at least the next three years,” Gallagher said. Josh Block ‘14, press secretary for Raimondo, added, “We’re not cutting any funding.”

Egan stressed that the AICU RI was not there to oppose free college, but to protect the scholarship pool for private college grants. Maintaining scholarship funds for Rhode Islanders attending in-state institutions would benefit Rhode Island, Egan said, since a student is “more likely to be a part of our economy because she went to undergrad here.”

Zoe Mermelstein ’21, director of speakers and events for the Brown College Democrats, argued that Raimondo’s plan to fund RIC tuition would benefit the “long-term economic health of the state.”

Ben Lipson ’22, political director of the Brown College Democrats, said that the Brown Promise to make higher education accessible to Rhode Islanders seems inconsistent with its affiliate AICU “directly fighting against” policy to do just that.

Assistant Vice President of Government & Community Relations Al Dahlberg said that the University has “not taken a position” on the issue at this time.


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