Free education after high school for everyone is still a long way off, but the great state of Rhode Island just took a step toward providing it. Starting this academic year, Rhode Island will offer free tuition at community colleges — or, specifically, at the Community College of Rhode Island, which is the only community college in the state.
Students at CCRI would normally have to pay $2,074 a semester in tuition fees, but the state will now be covering that. There are a couple of caveats to the deal; students receiving the tuition assistance must have graduated from high school the semester before, must attend community college full-time, and must maintain a 2.5 GPA while they're there. And most controversially, students who have their tuition paid for by the state are thereby agreeing to stay and work in Rhode Island for as long as they received the scholarships. For students receiving an associate's degree at a community college, that means two years.
Rhode Island isn't alone in offering free tuition at community colleges — Oregon, Tennessee, and New York offer the same deal, and New York also requires that students stay in the state after graduation for as many years as they received the scholarship. That's less restrictive deal in New York than it is in Rhode Island, however, as Rhode Island has been struggling with high unemployment for several years now.
While this is certainly a moment to celebrate for all the students who will receive valuable job training at CCRI for free, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo can only claim it as a partial win. She had originally also promised two years of free tuition at Rhode Island's two four-year colleges, the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College. This plan was shot down by the Rhode Island state legislature, with the Democratic speaker of the House calling the original plan "unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible." This, U.S. News reports, left some students feeling like they'd been mislead.
"A lot of people applied and enrolled in URI or RIC under the assumption that this would become law soon," Oluwatona Campbell, the just-graduated former class president of Cumberland High School, told U.S. News. Campbell applied to and will be attending the University of Rhode Island when the new school year starts, but he will not receive the scholarship that the governor had promised.
Nonetheless, this is a big victory for the many people who will benefit from it. CCRI will expand its enrollment, and the students who attend the school will receive vocational training that they'll be able to put to use in Rhode Island immediately after graduation. Rhode Island's economy will thus benefit from the deal as well — which could perhaps smooth things over as Gov. Raimondo continues the fight to grant free tuition to students at the state's four-year colleges as well.