Higher education costs are rising exponentially and it is causing more students to either drop out due to the financial burden or avoid higher education all together.
If elected governor, Gina Raimondo said Thursday she would work with Rhode Island public universities and colleges, businesses and students to help make the cost of college become more affordable in a manner that everyone could benefit from.
At a press conference at University of Rhode Island’s Providence campus, Raimondo outlined plans to deal with the rising costs of higher education. She told the educational story of her ancestors. She said her grandfather had to learn English; her father was able to attend college thanks to the GI Bill; she referenced the “American Dream” numerous times and how that is increasingly harder to obtain.
“A college degree is growing further and further out of reach…access to higher education is at risk of becoming a luxury. Higher education shouldn’t become a luxury we need to rededicate ourselves to education so that graduation from a public college or university becomes a reality for all students.”
Raimondo, who is on the Board of Directors for Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority (RIHEAA), said RIHEAA has, over time, accumulated about $25 million in reserves. She proposed these funds be used to create a college scholarship fund. This fund would go to any Rhode Island graduating high school student who has a 3.0 GPA or higher and qualifies for financial assistance. The scholarship would seek to cover most or all of the tuition remaining after financial aid from the school or university. She said that the fund would cost between $10 million and $25 million annually.
Raimondo referenced the success of the “Tennessee Promise,” through which the state of Tennessee uses excess lottery reserves to “bridge the gap” between financial aid and tuition. She believes in this system because, “I know the value of higher education first hand. I’ve seen it in my family, and I’ve experienced it myself. It is transformative. No Rhode Islander should be denied the opportunity to pursue post secondary education simply because it has become prohibitively expensive.”
Her plan also includes loan forgiveness. Graduates are leaving universities with crippling debt that holds not only them back but also the entire country. From 2006 to 2012, nearly 10 percent of “prime working” Rhode Islanders left the state for better occupational opportunities. Raimondo plans on rewarding students who remain in Rhode Island after graduation by working with businesses statewide.
“Businesses who participate in the program will have access to a talented pipeline of highly trained employees, in exchange for paying off some of their loan debt. Not only will we be keeping more talent here in Rhode Island but we’ll be helping our business grow and thrive,” Raimondo said.
The plan has worked before in New Hampshire with the “Stay Work Play Initiative.” Over the first four years of employment with participating businesses, students who have graduated from a New Hampshire state college or university can have $8,000 of federal loan debt paid off by their employers.
The last facet of Raimondo’s proposed plan involves reinvigorating CCRI, what she called “one of our state’s greatest educational resources...with untapped potential.” She said that only 10 percent of CCRI’s students graduate and she plans to double that percentage in her first term. She wants to instill a program through which local businesses would work side by side with administrators to create a hands-on curriculum. She mentioned that at URI a similar program, the Business Engagement Center, is already in place. Part of this curriculum could have internship like courses where students can work part time with a business in their field for credit that may lead more closely to employment after graduation.
“Businesses see the value of these kinds of initiatives and are willing to invest in the schools and students who participate in them,” Raimondo said.
She proposed following the BMW Scholars Program model in South Carolina. BMW provides tuition assistance and also employs students part time throughout their education. Raimondo said that an opportunity should be offered for highly motivated students to excel and graduate as soon as possible similar to City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, by which students can have consolidated schedules, financial aid and free use of textbooks.
When questioned about the real life possibility of these plans solving the issues posed by the cost of higher education, she said, “There is no silver bullet to education, but we need to put higher education in reach, make it affordable…We need to hold ourselves accountable for results.”
“Let’s get it together,” Raimondo concluded. “We have students here with immense debt after graduation with the skills but no jobs to use them for. We need to lay the foundation for a vibrant economy and education for our youth in the future.”
For more information on Gina Raimondo’s plans for higher education or her campaign for governor visit her website, www.ginaraimondo.com.