R.I. candidates vary in approach to free tuition

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo chairs a plenary session on workforce development at the National Governors Association’s meeting last month in Providence, Rhode Island. (Photo: AP /Stephan Savoia)

The major candidates for governor in Rhode Island say if elected they would take different approaches to the state’s free college tuition program.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has said that if re-elected, she’d like to expand the program to the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College. It’s currently only available at the Community College of Rhode Island.

Raimondo said if the state doesn’t continue to expand its scholarship and job training programs, thousands of state residents won’t get the education and job training they need to get ahead.

“Whether you’re 18 and just starting out, 35 and stuck in a job without a future, or 50 and need to start over, there will be an opportunity for you to get the training and education you need to keep up and get ahead in Rhode Island in the years to come,” she said in a statement.

Democratic challenger Matt Brown said he’d push to make public colleges tuition-free for all Rhode Island students. He said he’d also try to help more graduates be able to afford their student loan payments and create affordable housing to keep talented young people in Rhode Island.

“A quality education should be available to all Rhode Islanders, and no student here should be burdened with unaffordable student loan debt,” Brown said in a statement.

The GOP POV

Republican Patricia Morgan said she’d nix the existing program and focus on K-12 education, so students are better prepared to continue their education or join the workforce.

“I think it’s poorly structured,” she said. “It sets kids up for failure and taxpayers end up paying for that failure. It’s not a good use of our resources.”

Students have to maintain a 2.5 grade point average to get the scholarship for two years.

About 1,000 students received full or partial scholarships in the first year of the program, the 2017-2018 academic year. CCRI says nearly 60 percent are registered for the fall and that number will increase as students finish summer classes.

Republican Allan Fung declined to comment.

Focus on trades

Independent Joe Trillo said he’d likely continue the program at CCRI but the state can’t afford an expansion. He wants to create new trades programs.

“Would I want to give everyone a free education? Sure,” he said. “I’d like to give the world a free education, but you have to be realistic.”

Trillo, Morgan and Brown criticized Raimondo’s announcement about expanding the free tuition program, calling it a ploy to get votes.

Raimondo first proposed offering free tuition in January 2017, when she wasn’t up for re-election. She wanted to give in-state residents two years free tuition at the three public colleges then, saying it’d cost $30 million annually.

Lawmakers scaled back the plan in the budget, eventually approving $2.8 million for the first year of the free tuition program at CCRI. Raimondo also wants any Rhode Island adult to be able to attend CCRI for free, not just recent graduates.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo chairs a plenary session on workforce development at the National Governors Association’s meeting last month in Providence, Rhode Island. (Photo: AP /Stephan Savoia)

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