There is something disheartening about looking over the reaction to the rollout of the Rhode Island Promise scholarship program and seeing a significant amount of kneejerk, negative feedback.
Perhaps that’s just human nature. There are nearly twice as many emotionally negative words in the English language as positive ones. People have also been scientifically shown to be more inclined to voice their opinion if they disapprove of the topic at hand, and even more so if they feel vindicated in their opinion because of a moral or factual reason.
However, an objective analysis of Rhode Island Promise doesn’t reveal a legitimate reason to criticize a program that strives to provide more access to education.
People criticize the program, mostly for being misleading. “It isn’t free. Stop calling it free. My taxes pay for that.” At face value this is true. CCRI is an institute of public higher education, meaning it is funded primarily through taxpayers.
However, the reality is that a $2.75 million program in a $9.2 billion budget is absolutely negligible to taxpayers on an individual basis. The program amounts to a mere one half of one (0.05) percent of just the $500 million public higher education portion of the budget. Considering there are over a million people in Rhode Island, it costs a little more than $2 per person to fund this program. It is not breaking your bank.
Another common complaint is that there is no guarantee that students will take advantage of this program and stay in Rhode Island, meaning they funded somebody’s education and will see no benefit from doing so.
One issue with this is that records from CCRI itself indicate that 90 percent of CCRI grads stay in the state after graduation, either continuing their education or immediately joining the workforce. It should also be noted that Gov. Raimondo originally wanted to make staying in the state for two years following graduation a requirement, but that proved to be unrealistic to enforce.
The other problem is that this is shortsighted thinking. The program has already helped bring in hundreds of new students, exceeding CCRI’s projections. If even just half of these students stay in Rhode Island and contribute to the local economy, the program will be proving its worth. But that will take time to occur, something that is hard to accept for those who need instant results and returns on investment.
CCRI is not Harvard, but it is a potential launch pad for students who perhaps aren’t certain of what they want to do when it’s time to make choices that will impact the rest of their lives. It provides options and opportunity that may not have been there before. It may get a student who had no interest in furthering their education that little push needed to try it out, since they won’t be saddled with debt as a result.
Another important fact is that the program is a last dollar scholarship. Everyone signing up for the program must submit the FAFSA in order to see what financial aid is available to them before any money is provided from Rhode Island Promise. It is meant to fill a funding gap for people who truly don’t have any money to spare for college-related costs that are consistently not funded by aid and are deceptively expensive, like registration fees and books.
Other problems are simply imaginary. There is no basis to the criticism that this program will fund rich kids who don’t need financial aid, or that this is significantly contributing to the ballooning state budget. For a real example of an extravagant waste of taxpayer dollars, one should probably look at unreasonable pension costs for municipal employees before attacking a negligible amount of money for an education program.
Times have changed. A degree in higher education has become equivalent to a high school diploma in many fields, and it is unrealistic and unfair to expect a majority of 18-year-olds to want to go into skilled trades straight out of high school. Providing better access to education is a savvy investment into the future, not a waste of money.