6 questions about Rhode Island Promise, answered

Officials hope to boost degree completion

Last week, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D) proposed "The Rhode Island Promise Scholarship," a plan for free college with a unique spin. Here are the key facts about the proposal.    

Who would be eligible?

Eligible Rhode Island residents must obtain a high school diploma or GED in Rhode Island—from a public high school, private high school, or homeschooling—and then enroll in one of the three public colleges within six months (no gap years allowed, unless for military service). Students must also attend college full-time and maintain a 2.0 GPA.

How would it work?

Students could attend any of the state's public colleges without paying tuition for two years.

At a two-year institution, students would attend without paying tuition for the entire two years. At four-year institutions, students would pay tuition for the first two years, but would attend tuition-free for junior and senior year.

How much would the plan cost the Rhode Island government?

Once fully implemented, the plan is estimated to cost Rhode Island $30 million per year, which is less than 0.5% of the state's total budget.

What do people like about the plan?

Supporters of the plan say it will encourage timely completion.

Currently, only 49% of URI students and only 14% of RIC students graduate on time. But an estimated 70% of Rhode Island's jobs require postsecondary degrees, so state officials feel an urgent need to increase the number of local college graduates.

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What do people dislike about the plan?

In a survey of Providence Journal readers, 68% supported the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship, but 32% opposed it.

Critics say they don't believe taxpayers should pay for other people's children to attend school.

Critics also say officials should answer certain questions about the plan, such as:

  • Does it favor students who can afford their first two years of a four-year college?;
  • What happens when students transfer from community college to a four-year institution?;
  • What happens if a student needs to stop out and then return to school?; and
  • How do AP credits and Early College High School programs fit in?

What's the next step?

Rhode Island's plan will need approval from the state Legislature, beginning with General Assembly approval, which could occur at a meeting this week (Associated Press, "News 8," wtnh.com, 1/16; Lobosco, CNNMoney, 1/16; Mackay, Rhode Island Public Radio, 1/14; Miller, Providence Journal, 1/15; Reed, Inside Higher Ed, 1/16).

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