Nearly 40 Percent of Raimondo’s “Free College” Students at CCRI Did Not Return for 2nd Year

Thursday, September 27, 2018


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The RI Promise program is a top Raimondo initiative.

Governor Gina Raimondo’s signature RI Promise program pledged to help reduce college debt and enable access to a college education regardless of financial need or academic performance.

GoLocal has learned that of the first year’s students, nearly 40 percent did not return for their second year — despite the free tuition.

“I look forward to sharing more details with you about our Rhode Island Promise students. While we are still analyzing the data, we know that we welcomed back 62 percent of cohort one for a second year and enrolled more than 2,000 Promise students in cohort two, a 25 percent increase over last year,” wrote Sara Enright, vice president of Student Affairs and chief outcomes officer at the Community College of RI. Enright unveiled the performance in an internal CCRI email.

The performance of the program seemed to catch Raimondo’s team off guard, after reports about the retention rate began emerging from CCRI last week, before the college administration released the numbers.

“I’m not sure where you’re getting that number from. CCRI is still compiling data for the Fall 2018 semester that just started. Previous data produced by CCRI on Promise has consistently shown higher performance from these students compared to prior years and a dramatic increase in those on-track to graduate in two years. I will be sure to share the new data with you as soon as we have it,” said Josh Block, Raimondo’s spokesperson in an email to GoLocal before the official numbers were announced. 

The latest numbers unveil that the program, which markets itself that regardless of your family income, you won’t pay tuition at CCRI, is having a difficult time retaining its students. 

According to the program, the eligibility is simple — be a Rhode Island resident and a 2018 high school graduate (public, private or homeschooled) or GED recipient who is younger than 19 years old.

To continue to stay eligible for the free tuition, students must enroll full time (15 credits strongly encouraged), maintain at least a 2.5 GPA, earn 30 credits each year and enroll each semester for two years. Fall and spring are required.

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CCRI, Warwick campus

Lowering Standards

In March GoLocal unveiled a copy of a confidential Community College of Rhode Island report that showed that an overwhelming majority of the CCRI students that received free tuition under the state’s new free tuition program — Promise Scholarship — were falling behind and were not on track graduate on schedule.

The top Community College of Rhode Island official told some CCRI faculty and administration officials that the current requirements for the RI Promise Scholarship program are a "barrier to advancement" — and suggested that lowering the bar for the state's recently enacted free college tuition program for the state's community college could raise success rates. 

In a nine-page report presented at the President's Council on March 28 by CCRI Vice President and Chief Outcome Office Sara Enright, the current requirements of a 2.5 GPA and 30 credits a year for the Promise Scholarship, which was championed by Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and approved by the General Assembly last year — are now being called into question as too stringent.

Brookings Institute

Research released by the Brookings Institution raises new questions about “free college” programs like RI’s Promise program which now offers up to two years of tuition-free junior college for Rhode Island students.

Raimondo is advocating for the expansion of the program if she is re-elected. In her second term, "Raimondo will expand Rhode Island Promise by making it available to Rhode Islanders enrolled at our state’s four-year college and university. Any recent Rhode Island high school graduate that qualifies for in-state tuition and enrolls full-time at RIC or URI and maintains good academic standing will be eligible for the scholarship in their last two years of college," said her campaign.

Brookings reports, “In a new study, [Professor] Douglas Harris evaluates a Milwaukee program that promised up to $12,000 in college tuition to qualifying high school students and finds that it had no effect on whether they went directly on to college.”

Last week, Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello while appearing on GoLocal LIVE raised concerns about the program’s success and proposed expansion. He warns that RI already faces a $200 million deficit and the expansion of the program who aggravate the state’s tenuous fiscal condition.


Related Slideshow: CCRI Promise Report March 2018


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