House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio today introduced legislation to permanently enact the Rhode Island Promise program, which provides up to two years of free tuition for eligible Rhode Islanders at Community College of Rhode Island.

The program is currently set to expire with the class entering CCRI in September 2021. President Ruggerio’s and Speaker Shekarchi’s bill would remove the sunset provision altogether, making the program permanent. 

“The Promise program is an excellent example of how we can prioritize affordable college options for all Rhode Islanders. The best investment we can make to help individuals achieve their goals is to give them the access to a college education, which is the pathway to a brighter future,” said Speaker Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) in a press release.

Said Senate President Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) in the release, “Rhode Island, the nation and the world are increasingly knowledge economies. Higher education is more necessary than ever before, and it has to be available and affordable for all Rhode Islanders. Rhode Island Promise has proven itself effective, significantly improving two-year graduation rates for students. Removing barriers to higher education, particularly its high cost, supports families, helps Rhode Islanders land better jobs, makes our workforce more attractive to employers and strengthens our economy. Rhode Island Promise is a great program that has proven itself effective, and we strongly support making it a permanent resource for students.”

The program was proposed by Gov. Gina Raimondo in 2017, and is open only to students graduating high school who begin CCRI the following fall. To keep the scholarship, they must be full-time students who qualify for in-state tuition, maintain at least a 2.5 GPA, and remain on track to graduate on time. As a “last-dollar” scholarship program, it funds only the remaining costs of tuition and mandatory student fees after Pell Grants and other sources of scholarship funding are factored in.

When originally proposed, Rhode Island Promise had a sunset provision that would have made it expire with the class that graduated high school in 2020 and entered CCRI that fall. The General Assembly included an expansion in the 2021 budget, extending to the program for students who are currently high school seniors. With the passage of President Ruggerio’s and Speaker Shekarchi’s legislation (2021-S 00792021-H 5224), the program would be available to students in perpetuity.  It currently costs $7 million per year.

The Senate bill is co-sponsored by many of the chamber’s leaders, including Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence), President Pro Tempore Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick), Education Committee Chairwoman Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), Finance Committee Chairman Ryan W. Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln), Commerce Committee Chairwoman V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), Environment and Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), Rules, Government Ethics and Oversight Committee Chairman Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) and Labor Committee Chairman Frank A. Ciccone III (D-Dist. 7, Providence).

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Ryan M. Belmore

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