By Linda Borg
Gov. Gina Raimondo, if reelected, has pledged to expand the free college tuition program at the Community College of Rhode Island to the state's two four-year colleges at a estimated cost of $35 million.
In a news conference at CCRI's Lincoln campus, she also promised to offer free tuition to all adults at CCRI.
Raimondo also proposed increasing the number of training opportunities for adults through a program called Real Jobs Rhode Island. A second jobs training center in northern Rhode Island was announced during her State of the State speech earlier this year. Westerly has the first training site.
Raimondo said her three-part plan will provide "universal job training for everyone in Rhode Island."
"Whether you are 18 and just staring out, 35 and stuck in a job without a future, or 50 and need to start over," she said, "there will be an opportunity for you to get the training and education you need to keep up and get ahead in Rhode Island."
Raimondo said she hasn't discussed these proposals with the leadership of the House and Senate. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello could not be reached for comment Monday.
"This is about priorities," she said, adding that her original proposal to offer two years of free tuition to qualified students entering CCRI "wasn't warmly received but I got it done."
The legislature shot down the governor's original plan to offer two years of free tuition at all three of the state's public colleges, with the possibility of revisiting the proposal at a later date.
Under Raimondo's latest proposal, the last two years of tuition at Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island would be free. This scholarship would be available to recent high school graduates who maintain a solid academic standing and are on track to graduate in four years.
Currently, Rhode Island Promise requires that community college students be recent high school graduates, enroll full-time and maintain a 2.5 GPA. Her new proposal provides free tuition to full-and part-time students, but they must be enrolled for six credits per semester.
In September, CCRI reported a 47 percent jump in its enrollment of full-time students who have just graduated high school, a boost that the college attributed to the promise of two years of free tuition. But the college later acknowledged that only a fraction of those students were on track to graduate in two years.
Reaction from two of the state's college presidents was enthusiastic.
RIC President Frank D. Sánchez said he supports the governor's plan to expand the scholarship program, adding that 70 percent of RIC graduates stay in Rhode Island, making the college "a significant pipeline to Rhode Island's professional workforce and an essential catalyst for economic growth."
CCRI President Meghan Hughes said the college was deeply grateful to the governor for making college available to more Rhode Islanders and said she was "proud that the college is at the center of this initiative."
University of Rhode Island President David Dooley said he continues "to believe that Rhode Island's program would be unique in that it is designed to accelerate the number of students completing degree programs while also significantly cutting the cost of their education."
Ron Knox, campaign spokesperson for Democratic challenger Matt Brown, said, "Making in-state college tuition free is a laudable goal, but voters know her record doesn't match her words. She's out for herself, not for Rhode Islanders."
(c)2018 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)