Rhode Island lawmakers passed their FY 2018 budget Thursday evening. The budget laid out $9.2 billion dollars in spending, making it the first time Rhode Island legislators passed a budget over $9 billion. Of the $9.2 billion, $5.5 million is allocated to a new program that will offer free college tuition to students.
The state lawmakers passed a four-year pilot program that allows high school graduates and GED recipients to go to the Community College of Rhode Island for free. Rhode Island is now the fourth state to pass free college programs, joining New York, Oregon, and Tennessee.
The Promise Scholarship will cover all of the tuition and fees for incoming students. Unlike New York’s free college plan, this scholarship is granted to students regardless of income.
To qualify, you must be a citizen of Rhode Island and graduate high school in 2017–they’ll continue enrolling students who graduate in subsequent years. GED holders, who are 19 or younger, are also eligible. To keep the free ride, the student has to be enrolled full time and maintain a 2.5 GPA or higher. The program also requires students to live and work in the state after graduation for an unspecified amount of time.
Rhode Island Republicans advocated against the free college program in the Ocean State, arguing it is not only unaffordable but that it would decrease competition for other state schools. They also opposed giving handouts to students who may not need it saying the program should have a better vetting process. In response, Democrats said those who are wealthier wouldn’t be going to the state’s community college anyway.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) campaigned for free public college for all in his 2016 presidential campaign. On January 17th, Sanders asked the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos if she supported free public college for all. DeVos reminded Sanders, “there’s nothing in life that’s truly free.” In these states that now offer the free college incentives, taxpayers end up footing the bill.