Rhode Island Becomes Second State to Propose Free College Tuition

The push for free college tuition gained additional momentum Monday with Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, proposing a program that would cover two years of tuition for in-state residents who attend any of the state’s three public colleges and universities.

Raimondo’s announcement comes just two weeks after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a similar plan for his state. However, unlike Cuomo’s plan, Rhode Island would limit the program to two years, rather than four. Students attending the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) would have their first two years paid for — which, if they finish on time, should cover their entire associate degree — and those who enroll at the University of Rhode Island (URI) or Rhode Island College (RIC) would have their junior and senior years paid for.

This structure is designed to incentivize students to complete their degrees and graduate on time. According to the governor’s office, only 5 percent of CCRI students, 15 percent of RIC students, and less than half of URI students complete their degree on time.

Also different from New York’s plan — which limits the program to students from families that earn $125,000 per year or less — under Rhode Island’s proposal, every resident who graduates from an in-state high school would be eligible. However, only those who enroll in the fall semester immediately following their high school graduation will qualify for the program; no gap years are allowed unless they are for military service. Students will also be required to maintain at least a 2.0 GPA while enrolled.

Raimondo said the program will help prepare young people for jobs, the majority of which now require a college degree.

“When I was my children’s age, most jobs in Rhode Island required nothing more than a high school degree,” Raimondo said. “But for all of our kids, that’s not the case anymore.”

Rhode Island’s scholarship would cover the cost of tuition and fees for students for the two years, but not the cost of room and board. Raimondo expects 8,000 students to benefit from the program, which will cost $30 million a year — less than half of 1 percent of the state’s overall budget.

Raimondo’s plan still needs to be approved by the Rhode Island legislature before it can be implemented. Experts say she faces fewer barriers to passing the measure than Cuomo does, as Democrats control both the House and Senate in Rhode Island.