`Offering a free education to anyone who can sit at a desk is a ludicrous waste of taxpayer money'
Not to be outdone by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in a chance to receive national recognition, our Governor Gina Raimondo has proposed a free public institution tuition program for Rhode Island students. The Rhode Island’s Promise Scholarship Program would provide two years free tuition at the Ocean State’s public colleges and universities. Governor Cuomo had been the first governor to suggest this specific type of program.
Certainly, the debate over ever escalating college tuitions and the need for post-secondary education for mere survival in our diminishing manufacturing/industrial society is heated and vital. The notion that it is our society’s inherent burden to provide a free education past High School is controversial. Questions of individual responsibility and the dynamics of struggling toward a goal versus having an opportunity guaranteed are multi-faceted and must be pondered.
A variety of concepts on how to address the problems with higher education and its costs have been already enacted in Oregon, Tennessee and Georgia with mixed results. Whether or not Governor Gina’s proposal should come to fruition is worth examining on the basis of costs, standards of eligibility, and social morality and principle.
As someone who has earned both his undergraduate degrees and his graduate degree part-time at night while working more than full-time during the days, I can attest to the fact that the degree of difficulty one faces in obtaining a sheepskin enhances its value. I believe this cannot be said of those who attend college on the public’s largesse. Case and point, in my home state of New Jersey, there is a state program called the Educational Opportunity Fund. This program provided tuition, books, room and board, meal tickets, small stipends, in other words a free ride to the underprivileged students. The graduation rate for students in this program has been consistently under 40 percent every year since its inception in 1968. Apparently, paying a student’s way through college does not necessarily motivate them to strive for success.
Yet, New York Governor Cuomo wants to provide an Excelsior Scholarship to all SUNY and CUNY college system students whose families make less than 100 thousand per year in income the first year, 110 thousand the second year, and 125 thousand the third year of this new program. Cuomo believes he can accommodate 940,000 New York families the first year. Opponents in the state legislature think the cost estimates of this program, which commences in the fall of 2017, are grossly underestimated and will lead to dangerous budgetary problems in the future. Also, some legislators believe a strict GPA standard should determine eligibility so New York taxpayers are not wasting their money foolishly.
Similarly, in financially desperate Rhode Island with our over-sized ridiculous $9.2 billion budget and our possible $120 million plus shortfall in this budgetary cycle should we be considering this additional expense to the taxpayer? Another $30 million or more hoisted upon Rhode Islanders already beleaguered with astronomical and unfair taxation is unthinkable.
Raimondo’s plan would provide two years of tuition and mandatory fees free. Prospective scholarship students must go directly from graduating from a Rhode Island High School into a higher institution of learning with no gaps in time between high school ending and entering college in the fall. Also, a student must only maintain a 2.0 GPA. Additionally, there are no family income requirements so even the affluent can close the checkbook when it comes to paying for their child’s tuition. Those students attending the University of Rhode Island or Rhode Island College can have junior and senior year paid for and students attending the Community College of Rhode Island can have the entire enrollment paid for. Currently, the annual tuition and fees for URI are $12,884.00, for RIC $8,206.00, and for CCRI $4,266.00.
Most glaring about the governor’s proposal is that the academic standard is pathetically low. Any student making a half-hearted attempt at occupying classroom space can achieve a 2.0 GPA. The minimum required GPA should be a 3.0.
Such is the case with the Hope Scholarship Program in the State of Georgia. Not only must a student consistently maintain a 3.0 GPA to continue to have his or her tuition paid, but there is a strict standard of deportment and college community involvement required. To apply for the program, a student must have proven themselves in High School in grades, test scores, and cultural involvement. If qualified, scholarships are available on a lottery basis to enter a Georgia State university, college, or technical school. This program is the largest and most successful merit based scholarship program in the United States, because it demands a determination toward excellence. If Raimondo’s proposed program was more geared toward creating a tuition-free meritocracy rather than a free ride for likely sliders and skaters, it would garner more enthusiasm.
Not dissimilar to Governor Gina’s program is the “Tennessee Promise” scholarship program in Tennessee. This active program only pays for two years of community college. However, sadly it requires no minimum GPA requirement. Thus, the onslaught of students has far exceeded its original estimated capacity and costs to the Tennessee taxpayer. The program was largely started in response to a Pew Research Center report to the governor regarding the doubling of the Latino population in the last decade and the small number of Hispanics then attending college in the state.
Mike Krause, Director of Tennessee Promise, has stated that the program is a “workforce and economic development program” rather than a simple academic opportunity effort. Krause said: “The hazard is that people see it as higher education policy”. Despite Krause’s claims, is it not a higher education policy when you accept any applicant regardless of background or level of prior academic accomplishment? Without a rigid standard for entrance into a state institution and a continuum of grade status in order to enjoy the taxpayer’s benevolence, Tennessee Promise becomes just another non-productive public assistance program.
At least in the State of Oregon, Governor Kate Brown has been forthright in her hopes for the Oregon Community College Tuition Assistance Program. First and foremost, participants are required to sustain a 2.5 GPA. Surely, this standard is not high enough, but better than no standard at all. However, there are other college activity requirements to display how a scholarship student augments the institution he or she attends. Upon announcement of the program, Brown stated: “Today we fling open wide the doors of opportunity by expanding access to post secondary education, the precursor to a better life”.
Governor Brown is correct education can be the magic bullet in an individual’s life if they value the struggle to achieve their academic goals. On the contrary, to simply offer a free education to anyone who can sit at a desk is a ludicrous waste of taxpayer money. In our state, if we are to have a free tuition program it must be strongly merit and performance based. The student must not only strive toward great achievement he or she must add to the college community.
Considering our state’s sizable indebtedness and the extraordinary aggregate scope of our budget, I am not sure we taxpayers can afford such an effort. Nevertheless, if the representatives on Smith Hill embrace the governor’s ideas the final bill should be honed to be strictly merit based.
Moreover, the value of academic achievement is only properly accessed and appreciated by the degree of difficulty in obtaining ones goal. Otherwise, a hard fought for sheepskin becomes a meaningless certificate.