Anchor Staff Writer
During the past decades in academia, the burden of rapidly increasing debt has prevented prospective students from striving towards a higher education and acted as a hardship that graduates carry indefinitely after completing their degree. Since the court-ordered pause of President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, the hopes of unloading said burden has often felt fruitless for innumerable students around the nation. Fortunately, lawmakers in Rhode Island are pushing for the necessary steps that will open a pathway to higher education for the Ocean State’s denizens.
In the latest legislative session of the Rhode Island General Assembly, a bill has been introduced that will provide a free pathway to a bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College. This bill, known as Bill H 5099, or the Rhode Island Hope Scholarship Pilot Program Act, was introduced by the Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair, State Rep. Joseph McNamara, and co-sponsored by RIC alumni Rep. Leonela Felix, Rep. Enrique Sanchez and Rep. Nathan Biah, among others.
The bill, upon passage, would herald the creation of the Rhode Island Hope scholarship, which would provide students attending RIC two years of tuition-free education during their junior and senior years at RIC. This scholarship, paired with the Rhode Island Promise scholarship enacted by then-Gov. Gina Raimondo and enshrined in law by Gov. Dan Mckee, would ensure high school graduates in Rhode Island a right to debt-free higher education for all. As Rhode Island’s housing crisis compounds the rapidly increasing inflation of student debt, the passage of said bill is imperative to ensure Rhode Island’s students a life liberated from a mountainous debt.
Despite concerns that free tuition scholarships could beget fiscal issues for the state, said issues have yet to show themselves. In fact, the passage of the similar Rhode Island Promise scholarship has brought a sharp rise in students seeking college degrees in the state, and thus forging a pathway to a career that can provide liveable wages as well as profits for the state itself.
Along with said rise, Rhode Island reported a significant $610 million budget surplus for the year of 2022, showing the state is in no need to fret over the frugality of the program. Gov. McKee, in his State of the State address, proposed measures to contend with the surplus such as a reduction of the sales tax and pause to the growing gas tax. These measures will incrementally ease the strains of Rhode Island taxpayers, but there is no better use of a budget surplus than investing in the newest generation of Rhode Islanders themselves.
As I’ve detailed in a previous analysis for The Anchor, the student debt emergency has a compounding effect that accelerates a myriad of interlocking issues. The rise of unshakable debt has curtailed spending by consumers, stifled economic growth and innovation, accelerated the divides of racial inequity and even exacerbated the mental health crisis in the United States.
Safeguarding the right to debt-free education for the newest generation of students, as bill H 5099 does, is an investment from the bottom-up that will complete the work Rhode Island Promise started and guarantee the right to education in Rhode Island.
In section 16-112-2 of the bill, it is reminded that the state motto of Rhode Island is “Hope.” It is a short and simple creed, but one that defines Rhode Island unquestionably. Often the question is struck, however, of what exactly Rhode Islanders must hope for. Bills like H 5099 represent the Rhode Island hope that must be striven for at all costs. Rhode Islanders hold hope for the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that the Declaration of Independence promises, and this bill must be passed into law to guarantee that we can still live by our motto with pride and authenticity.