PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A group of business owners in Providence is backing Gov. Gina Raimondo’s plan to pay for two years of tuition at public colleges for state residents. The concept is designed to give every Rhode Island student the opportunity to attend college and be competitive in the job market.
The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce’s chairman, William Hatfield, and president, Laurie White, met with Raimondo Thursday morning to champion the plan. Hatfield said plans like this have had influence directly from business owners who have had challenges finding good people with advanced skills.
“We really wanted to come together and form an ‘education committee’ that could assemble and talk about how we [in the business community] could add value,” he said. Strengthening the entire K-12 system was also seen as necessary.
Earlier this week, a poll of 402 registered Rhode Island voters showed three in five people are also in favor of the college tuition plan.
But some opposition to the plan is expected. Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has called the plan “unsustainable” and “fiscally irresponsible” in the past.
White cited a statistic from ACCE, the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives: “For the first time ever, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher outnumber workers with a high school diploma or less.”
“So, we know that the face of the workforce is changing,” White added.
Raimondo stressed a commitment to fight “brain drain” — where students may be educated or grow up here, but leave for pastures they feel are greener. As the state has been creating thousands of jobs, Raimondo said, “I believe our collective obligation” — indicating herself and the Chamber leadership — “is to make sure Rhode Islanders are getting those jobs.”