In life, and especially in politics, a promise is not always something to be taken as gospel. Politicians make promises, and break them, all the time. However, just as it is important to call out such flippant use of promises when they are not followed through, when promises are delivered and result in observable benefits to society, it is important to give credit where it is due.
Such is the case, we believe, with a controversial promise that was made by Governor Gina Raimondo over a year ago – the Rhode Island Promise scholarship program, to be specific.
The premise of so-called “free” education is certainly not as simplistic as its name makes it out to be. Students eligible for the scholarship need to be just graduating high school, take 30 credits a year – often times requiring taking classes over the summer to fulfill – and maintain a 2.5 GPA. They also need to exhaust any other sources of financial aid – scholarships and Pell grants, for example – before being eligible to receive money from the state.
However, after witnessing a roundtable meeting with Raimondo, CCRI administrators and students entering their second year at CCRI utilizing the Rhode Island Promise scholarship, it is abundantly clear that this promise is being delivered upon and is achieving results for students in the state beyond expectations, and well beyond the approximately $3 million price tag to implement.
Statistics calculated from the first full year of the Promise program have shown that CCRI saw a 43 percent increase in first-time, full-time student enrollment straight from high school, which includes a 62 percent increase in students of color. These results alone show that the promise of financial assistance for those who otherwise may not have felt they could afford any college education decided to enroll – which is, in and of itself, a good thing.
More of a nuance, CCRI experienced a 54 percent increase in the number of first-time, full-time students receiving money through federal Pell grants – a figure that amounts to around $3.5 million in federal dollars being provided to the state for higher education; higher than the cost if implementation, mind you.
These statistics show clearly that the availability – the promise – that you can go to an institute of higher education without burdening yourself with student loan debt is a powerful attractant for more young adults to pursue higher education. In doing so, more students must apply for financial aid, and as a result, students who otherwise may have remained unaware at how much money they can receive in government assistance now have more doors open to them to education than they ever thought possible; again, where is the bad in this?
For cynics who doubt the efficacy of a program – saying it’s a waste of money or will only bring in entitled students who don’t want to work hard – the argument falls pathetically flat. Of the total students that enrolled last fall, 62 percent of them remain this fall. That’s higher than the 58 percent retention rate of program Rhode Island based its Promise program on in Tennessee. While this does not only include students attending on the Promise, it still shows a majority of students are committed.
Even more, the results of the Promise program have revealed that the number of students on track to graduate in two years from CCRI – a number that sat at a paltry 6 percent the year before Promise began – has risen to 22 percent this year. For context, the national average of students prepared to graduate in two years from similar schools is 12 percent.
Additionally, if students don’t keep their own promise to maintain good grades and accrue credits they need to keep the scholarship, they don’t receive the funds for the next year. Simple as that. There is simply no way to “abuse” this system. In fact, the dramatic increase of students on track to graduate in the year following the inception of the Promise program shows that students utilizing this scholarship are significantly more motivated to succeed rather than simply looking for a handout.
To claim that this program is somehow emblematic of a larger problem of entitlement, we argue that students should feel entitled to accessible, quality higher education without needing to enter into mountainous amounts of debt to do so – how is higher education being financially out of reach a good thing, exactly?
Alternatively, to argue that $3 million within a $9.37 billion state budget is too high a cost burden to taxpayers – money that has already shown to be succeeding in attracting driven, talented young people into a university that provides a pipeline into other state institutions, which in turn provides a pipeline into jobs within the state’s economy – is frankly nonsensical. More highly educated people in a state, who were educated because of a state program that made it possible, is good for any state’s economy.
There are sure to be those who will still make the inflammatory argument that the quality of education is not worth the expense. To this argument, we implore you to ask the students who participated in the roundtable. Their areas of study included radiology, animal science, marketing, cyber security and mechanical engineering; not exactly Coloring 101 if you ask us.
We ask sincerely, aren’t there other promises offered in this state that you’re better served trying to poke holes in?