CCRI can handle influx of free tuition students, says Hughes
Community College of Rhode Island President Meghan Hughes told members of the college foundation Friday that the institution has the capacity to accommodate an influx of students should legislators approve Gov. Gina Raimondo’s plan to give two years of free college to Rhode Islanders.
Under the governor’s RI Promise, high school graduates would be eligible to receive two years of free tuition at CCRI while juniors and seniors at the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College would be eligible. The governor’s budget calls for $10 million to run the program in the next academic year, with costs climbing to $30 million annually by the time the plan is fully implemented.
Foundation members questioned whether CCRI could handle a wave of high school graduates. Hughes said the college would welcome that.
Currently, she said, only 8 percent of CCRI’s enrollment is made up of students straight out of high school. She is targeting for that cohort to grow to 25 percent of the enrollment by the third year of the program.
“They have to start somewhere, and beginning here is a wise decision,” she said.
Under the program, $3 million of the $10 million would be earmarked for CCRI and $2 million for URI and RIC each next year. She said the remaining $1 million would be used for “outreach” and to promote the program.
Hughes dismissed the suggestion that CCRI would have to establish a cutoff for students because of a lack of staff and/or space.
“There’s no need for a cap. It’s a problem I would love,” she said.
Furthermore, she explained, CCRI is experiencing a decline in enrollment, which is a reflection of an improving economy.
According to statistics provided by the college, fall enrollment that is traditionally higher than spring enrollment has been in a decline since 2011 when it was at 17,893. Enrollment as of Sept. 22, 2016 was 15,101. Spring enrollment went from 16,673 in 2011 to 15,027 in 2016.
Traditionally, CCRI enrollment increases during a recession as unemployed look to gain new skills in order to get jobs. Hughes is encouraged by the success of the college’s online business program with an enrollment of 450. She said the college’s online delivery system offers new opportunities for access to those seeking a higher education.
Hughes urged members of the foundation to talk with their legislators and work to get General Assembly approval of Raimondo’s proposal.