Free tuition promise kept for 1,400 CCRI students
As Governor Gina Raimondo dished out free Del’s Lemonade to students Tuesday afternoon, her Promise Program was dishing out free education to many of those same students.
The program, passed in the most recent state budget, allows for two free years of classes at the Community College of Rhode Island for students who graduated (or acquired a GED) in 2017, are under the age of 19 and are residents of the state. Although the governor pushed to make two years of RIC and URI free in the program as well, the state’s latest budget only allows for the two free years at CCRI, at a total cost of $2.75 million.
Now that the program has taken affect, students taking advantage of the free tuition were eager to meet the governor in the gathering in the great hall of the Knight Campus, which was unexpected and unplanned for the students and workers going about their daily activities.
“College is not only expected in my family, but almost demanded,” said Peter Piazza, a freshman software engineering student from Middletown. “And I know that you can’t really get much with just a high school degree anymore. I work full time and go to school full time, and it’s a blessing to not have to worry about paying for tuition while I’m at CCRI.”
Piazza plans to transfer to URI after he gets his two-year associate’s degree from CCRI and will be able to use federal loans that he’s receiving now to help pay for that education.
The busy freshman’s sentiment about not being able to get a job in Rhode Island without some form of higher education is well-warranted, according to Kevin Gallagher, Deputy Chief of Staff for the governor’s office.
“We looked at the numbers and found something very interesting about high school students entering the state’s workforce,” said Gallagher. “For students who finished high school and went straight into the workforce in the class of 2014, the average annual salary for those individuals was just $9,000.”
He also said that 70 percent of jobs in Rhode Island require some form of college education, so getting these students two free years of CCRI should go a long way.
And now that the program has taken full effect and those students have begun classes, just how successful has it been? Well, the sheer numbers tell the story.
According to CCRI President Megan Hughes, the college is welcoming more than 1,400 full-time first-year students this year, compared to about 950 last fall.
This increase of over 45 percent is noteworthy for the Promise Program. That’s because it is the highest level of success that any state implementing a free-tuition program has had so far, with Tennessee the next closest at a 25 percent year-over-year increase, said Gallagher.
And the state was already at a disadvantage to seven other states offering free tuition because of how little time there was before school started once the bill was passed on Aug. 3. They had just four weeks to alert prospective students in the state, but because the program had been publicized for months and because so many students wanted to take advantage of it, hundreds of first-years have been welcomed into the college this month.
“We’ve definitely met students and families who would only have come here because of the program,” said Sara Enright, VP of Student Affairs. “They’re excited to be here and we’re excited to have them.”
Although there are some students who are only attending because of the financial help that the state is providing, others, like freshman Deryn Ordway of Warwick, would have attended CCRI anyway. But she knows how helpful the free tuition is in helping her reach her goal of getting a degree in theatre.
“I’m planning on transferring to RIC after my two years here. I would have come to CCRI anyway, but not having to pay for tuition is going to help me out a ton, especially when I have to pay for tuition at RIC. CCRI has been great so far. It’s better than high school because it’s not as crazy. The teachers really make you want to do the work here.”