PROVIDENCE, R.I. — On Friday, R.I. House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggiero introduced legislation that would remove the “sunset” provision and codify the Rhode Island Promise Program into state law.
Speaker Shekarchi, who had previously placed limits on the program when he served as Majority Leader, seemed to reverse course on Friday stating, “The Promise program is an excellent example of how we can prioritize affordable college options for all Rhode Islanders. The best investment we can make to help individuals achieve their goals is to give them the access to a college education, which is the pathway to a brighter future.”
Ruggiero said. “Higher education is more necessary than ever before and it has to be available and affordable for all Rhode Islanders. Rhode Island Promise has proven itself effective, significantly improving two year graduation rates. Removing barriers to higher education, particularly its high cost, supports families, helps Rhode Islanders land better jobs, makes our workforce more attractive to employers and strengthens our economy. Rhode Island Promise is a great program that has proven itself effective, and we strongly support making it a permanent resource for students.”
CCRI President Meghan Hughes released a statement on Friday asserting that she was “extremely grateful” that Shekarchi and Ruggiero had sponsored the legislation. “ We know that the promise of free college tuition is a powerful message, one that resonates with high school students and their families, many of whom doubted college could be part of their future,” she said. “By making Rhode Island Promise permanent, current high school students and even today’s middle schoolers, will see a path to a post-secondary degree.”
Governor Raimondo had previously pushed for the program to be expanded as it is set to expire this September. In April of 2019, Raimondo testified before the Senate Finance and Education Committees in an effort to expand the program to cover students in their junior and senior years at Rhode Island and to include adult learners over 25 attending CCRI. The push for expansion was ultimately unsuccessful however, the General Assembly did include an expansion in the FY21 budget that would include funding for students who are currently high school seniors to attend CCRI in the fall.
The Rhode Island Promise Scholarship was introduced by Governor Gina Raimondo in 2017 and allowed all Rhode Islanders coming right out of high school to attend the Community College of Rhode Island tuition-free. According to the Rhode Island Promise website, the scholarship is a “‘last-dollar scholarship’ that fills in the gap between other aid, like Pell grants, and the actual costs of tuition and mandatory fees.” Students who receive the scholarship must be full-time students who receive instate tuition and maintain at least a 2.5 GPA.
The program currently costs $7 million dollars a year.