Free college program may expand to RIC, adults at CCRI

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is seeking to expand the state’s free college program to juniors and seniors at Rhode Island College as well as adults over the age of 25 at the Community College of Rhode Island.

The Democrat, who just kicked off her second term leading the state, included an additional $5.3 million in her proposed $9.9-billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 to grow the Rhode Island Promise scholarship, which is currently offered only to recent high school graduates enrolled at CCRI.

The revised version of the program would include RIC students who earn 60 credits and maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average during their freshman and sophomore years at the school. Students who used their scholarship at CCRI would not be eligible for free tuition at RIC.

“This small but smart investment — a few million dollars in a $10 billion budget — will change lives, strengthen our economy and help us fulfill our obligation to ensure that every Rhode Islander can get a good job,” Raimondo said during her State of the State address this week. “If we do this, Rhode Island College will arguably offer the most affordable four-year degree in America.”

Adults who are at least 25 years old would be eligible for up to four years of free tuition at CCRI if they earn at least 18 credits – that’s typically six courses – a year. State officials say the program would apply to people over the age of 25 because that’s the age when people are labeled “adult learners” by the federal government.

Rhode Island’s version of free tuition is considered a last-dollar scholarship, which means students are required to exhaust all other forms of non-loan financial aid – like the federal Pell grant – before the state covers the balance. A year of in-state tuition costs just over $4,000 at CCRI and $8,929 at RIC.

The Raimondo administration launched its Promise program in the fall of 2017 with 1,577 students at CCRI, and 62% of them returned to the school for their second year, according to state data.

Raimondo and officials at CCRI have said the spike in retention is a sign the program is working, but critics have noted that only 22% of the first cohort of Promise recipients were on track to earn an associate’s degree as of the beginning of their sophomore year.

Raimondo’s budget proposal includes a total of $13.2 million for the Promise program, the bulk of which would go to CCRI. It’s unclear how many current RIC freshmen or sophomores would be eligible for the program beginning in the fall.

The scholarship expansion is among several significant education investments included in Raimondo’s proposed budget.

She is also asking for $10 million to begin implementing universal publicly-funded pre-K and an additional $30 million for cities and towns through the education funding formula. The budget also includes $2.25 million for districts with high percentages of English language learners, bringing total state funding for that population of students to $5 million.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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