Rhode Island: A Small State With A Powerful Promise
By Madalyn Ciampi, Outreach Coordinator at Providence Promise, a new non-profit organization committed to making higher education a reality for all Providence youth.
The College Promise movement is building momentum nationally as cities, counties, and states are leading the way to create Promise initiatives tailored to their local communities. With the rising cost of higher education and the growing need for a more educated workforce, leaders at all levels are working to develop programs to enable students to complete their degrees without the burden of unmanageable debt.
Rhode Island, a small state of just about one million people, is making significant strides in the movement for free community college. Just this year, three Promise initiatives have launched in the Ocean State; a statewide program that was proposed by Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, an institution-based initiative at Brown University, and a city-wide program in Providence. While each program was launched from a different source—one from the state, one from a private university, and one from a nonprofit organization in Providence—each embodies the spirit of the College Promise movement: to make higher education an affordable and accessible opportunity for all.
Here are the Three Programs Making Higher Education a Reality for All Students:
The Rhode Island Promise, a state initiative, covers the cost of a two-year associate degree at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) for 2017 Rhode Island high school graduates.
“When I was my kids’ age, most jobs in Rhode Island required nothing more than a high school degree. But, for my kids and yours, that’s not the case anymore. The reality is that most jobs being created now in Rhode Island will require some degree or certificate beyond a high school diploma,” said Governor Raimondo when she proposed a Promise program in her 2017 State of the State Address. “Our job is to ensure that there is opportunity for every Rhode Islander who is willing to work for it.”
The results are impressive: first-time, full-time student enrollment increased by 47%, the first semester that the RI Promise scholarship was available to students. However, Governor Raimondo is striving for more. Her goal is to ensure 70% of Rhode Islanders hold a college degree by 2025.
This September, Brown University announced the The Brown Promise, an initiative launched to eliminate loans from the financial aid packages of all undergraduate students at Brown University. The local Ivy League school replaced loans with grants for students with family incomes under $100,000 in 2008, and since then has seen increased attendance for low-income and first-generation students. This proposed initiative aims to make the dream of a Brown education a reality for students, and to improve the socioeconomic diversity of the student body by eliminating the barrier that keeps many students from coming to College Hill: loans.
“When students and their families are sitting at their dining room tables making decisions about where to apply to college, or whether to accept an offer of admission, we want them to know that Brown is an affordable choice,” said Brown President Christina Paxson when announcing the program.
If the University is successful in raising sufficient funds, all undergraduates will benefit from the Brown Promise beginning next year.
The Providence Promise, a nonprofit, city-specific initiative, utilizes 529 CollegeBound Saver accounts to facilitate asset building with Providence families and provides “Gap Funding” for Providence Public School students to attend college or trade school. Providence Promise works with Providence families to design individualized savings plans, aiming to help students and their families realize that saving for college is possible, even in low-income households.
Currently, the program offers seed deposits for these accounts, and is hoping to instate a matching program in the future. By facilitating savings, fostering a college-going culture in schools and the larger community, and providing an additional financial aid resource, the Providence Promise opens the door to greater opportunities by reducing the financial burden of higher education.
The program has also received support from Providence’s Mayor, Jorge Elorza. “From as far back as kids can remember, it should be ‘when I go to college…’, and that’s exactly what this program does,” he said before a gathering of Providence Promise leaders.
Rhode Island, like other Promise cities and states, understands that a high school diploma is no longer enough to ensure job security and a high quality of life for its residents. The state, a private university, and a city-level nonprofit are the first to take steps towards ensuring that all students can continue their education after high school, whether that is at a community college, a four-year university, or a trade or technical school. Rhode Island is a shining example of how the Promise movement can be tailored to any level to provide students with the resources they need to continue their educations beyond high school.
When it comes to the Promise movement, the Ocean State is making waves!