By JOHN HOWELL Kellsie King, a graduate of Cranston High School East who's now a junior at University of Rhode Island, would have probably attended college regardless of the Rhode Island Promise. But it wouldn't have been easy for her or her family. King
Kellsie King, a graduate of Cranston High School East who’s now a junior at University of Rhode Island, would have probably attended college regardless of the Rhode Island Promise. But it wouldn’t have been easy for her or her family.
King wasn’t eligible for a Pell grant that would have basically covered tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island. Going to college would have meant taking on a lot of student debt as well as adding strain to an already tight family budget. She is the first in her family to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
So when former Gov. Gina Raimondo launched the Promise program, giving high school graduates two years of free tuition at CCRI provided they were full time students and maintained a 2.5 grade point average, King signed up upon graduating in 2018.
During high school, she demonstrated an interest in journalism and completed an internship in the summer of 2018 at Beacon Communications, covering stories for the Warwick Beacon, Cranston Herald and Johnston Sun Rise. As a student at CCRI, she continued freelancing in addition to becoming involved with the CCRI student paper, The Unfiltered Lens, which she edited. She completed her associate degree in a year and a half. She has continued reporting and has had two stories published in the Boston Globe.
Recognizing the impact Rhode Island Promise has had on her life, she became an advocate for making the program permanent, writing letters in support of legislation introduced by House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.
King is majoring in political science with a minor in journalism at URI with the dream of running a campaign for a candidate for elective office. Predictably, the dream is for the candidate to win election.
On Friday, King was well positioned to make the connections that could land her that job. She was one of six students in the first cohort of Promise students in 2017 invited to view the signing. They were David Mota, Angie Escalante, Dalaun Andrade, Talia Thibodeau and Brian Imana. Mota told his story and what the program did for him.
King stood alongside House and Senate leaders, looking down as Gov. Dan McKee signed into law legislation making the Rhode Island Promise permanent. The initial legislation had a sunset provision that would have ended the program for this year’s graduating seniors. The program costs the state $7 million annually.
King’s story would have resonated with those attending the event celebrated in the Great Hall of the CCRI Knight Campus in Warwick.
In welcoming remarks, CCRI President Meghan Hughes called the event “one of the most important days in college history.” She highlighted the accomplishments of the program.
She said enrollment of the population coming straight out of high school more than doubled in three years, and the college saw an even greater increase for students of color.
Hughes called the program a significant driver behind the 9-percent increase in the college-going rate in Rhode Island, meaning 15 percent more of Rhode Island’s high school seniors enrolled in college since the launch of Promise.
In addition, she said the program has fueled the momentum at the college that led to CCRI tripling its two-year graduation rate, from 6 percent to 18 percent, and doubling its three-year rate from 15 to 30 percent.
McKee said the program removes barriers to go to college while helping the state’s economy.
“So many good things happen when you have a college degree,” said Shekarchi. The speaker, who served as Raimondo’s campaign manager when she first ran for office as general treasurer, credited the former governor with the program.
“Success has a lot of fathers, but the mother of the success [of the RI Promise] is Gov. Raimondo,” he said. He said in talking with Raimondo prior to her stepping down as governor to accept the president’s appointment as U.S. secretary of commerce, she told him the one thing was wanted was to make the Promise permanent.
Ruggerio focused on the impact of an educated workforce on attracting businesses and creating better jobs and what that means for Rhode Islanders and the state’s future.
He said, “two years of college is good, four years is better.”