Update: Still Time for Free College Tuition

Gov. Gina Raimondo

Gov. Gina Raimondo

Under the special RI Promise program at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI), the final application deadline is not until July 16 for fall 2018 entrance and the unified Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be submitted as late as August 1, well after the recommended date of March 1 for RI students. The RI Promise program offers free tuition to RI residents who in the 2017-2018 academic year either graduated from high school (public, private or homeschooled) or completed the General Educational Development (GED) test while younger than 19 years old. Students who begin the program can continue tuition-free for four semesters, enough to earn an associate degree, as long as they enroll full-time each semester, complete at least 30 credits per year and maintain at least a 2.5 GPA (on a 4.0 scale).

We explored the details of the program last year when it was newly introduced (“Free Tuition at CCRI: The New Lively Experiment”, Sep 20, 2017). Kristen Cyr, public relations officer at CCRI, provided information to Motif about how the program has worked out after its first year, which she described as “encouraging.” Last September, we quoted Sara Enright, vice president for Student Services and “chief outcomes officer” at CCRI, who said that the cohort of RI resident, recent high school graduates entering as full-time students increased to nearly 1,400 for the fall 2017 semester compared to about 950 last year. Enright’s estimate was actually low: The total count was 1,577 students, a 43% increase from the prior year, and 83% successfully completed their first semester in fall 2017 and began their second in spring 2018 (now in progress). “The college has seen a significant climb in first-time, full-time students on track to graduate in two years. Compared with last year’s cohort, CCRI saw a 240% increase in the number of students who are on track to graduate in two years – those who have earned at least 15 college-level credits and have a 2.5 GPA after their first semester,” according to Cyr.

Enright, in a statement provided by Cyr, praised CCRI’s 83% retention rate despite having only four weeks and no marketing budget to put the program together after Gov. Gina Raimondo was able to get authorization and financing from the General Assembly and give the college the go-ahead signal. Tennessee achieved a 79% retention rate with more than a year to launch and recruit for a similar program. “Like other states that have launched Promise programs, we have looked to the Tennessee model as a measuring stick for success,” said Enright in the statement.

“This time last year, our Rhode Island high school students had no idea that a free-tuition program would be in their futures,” Enright said in the statement. “This year [2018] we know there will be an increase in the number of students who take advantage of the program, and we’re ready to serve them. We are hiring more advisers to provide personal guidance, we are continuing to take down barriers related to developmental education, and we are committing significant resources to support completion and transfer.”

Rosemary Costigan, vice president for Academic Affairs at CCRI, told us last September that the school was prepared for the large influx without any sacrifice of academic quality: “We have a very active adjunct pool, we have very qualified faculty full-time, and we have been at this number before.” Costigan said then she had been adding teaching staff, including approximately 30 new full-time faculty.

The eligibility requirements, while strict, can be waived with good cause, especially where a student is a year or two older than 19, but has just completed a diploma or GED. Disabled students can also be considered full-time with a reduced credit load to accommodate their disability.

More information: ccri.edu/ripromise; Application form: ccri.edu/ripromise/pdfs/RIP+less+than+19.pdf

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