When Jackie Lee was graduating from Middletown High in 2018, her family was at risk of losing their business, and she knew she would have to find a way to pay for college on her own.
She learned about the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship Program, which allows in-state students to attend the Community College of Rhode Island, free, for two years, as long as they maintain a 2.5 grade point average and are enrolled full time.
The program allowed her to fulfill her goal of becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college. Lee earned her associate’s degree in general education, with a pathway in film and communications.
“There were a lot of unknown factors in my life and I didn’t want to make the wrong choice,” she said. “It gave me a chance to explore those interests.”
Lee has encouraged friends that are still in high school to explore the program. “It’s a starting point for providing equal access,” she said.
More than 120 Middletown High graduates have attended CCRI through the program, which was supposed to end with the class of 2021. But Gov. Dan McKee recently signed legislation that makes Rhode Island Promise permanent.
“Signing this bill into law marks a significant investment in affordable, accessible higher education for Rhode Island students,” said McKee. “Rhode Island Promise has helped remove barriers many of our students face in seeking higher education, and encourages them to maintain good academic standing. Access to quality higher education supports our economy and our workforce, and enriches the lives of so many who call Rhode Island home.”
When the legislation was signed into law, guidance counselors across the state sighed with relief.
Linda Moitoza, a guidance counselor at Rogers High, said that each year they would “hold their breath,” hoping that the state legislature would make the program permanent.
“We’re excited for the kids,” she said.
At Rogers, 86 graduates have enrolled in the program.
The pandemic, Moitoza said has caused an increase in seniors exploring two-year pro-grams as an option since its inception in 2017. A big part of that relates to the uncertainty of being able to live on campus due to the possibility of remote classes. The other reason, she said, is to save money.
John Hermes looked at finances when making his choice. He was accepted into a four-year college, but decided to enroll at CCRI. “In the long run, I would rather save money,” he said.
Hermes is earning his associate’s degree in fire science, and has also completed an EMT class. He hopes to continue his education at Providence College in the fire administration program.
He has also encouraged others to explore the program. “It’s definitely a good idea not to be in so much debt and get the same, if not better, education than at other colleges,” he said.
Estela Catalan, a first-generation American who grew up in Guatemala, said her advisor at Rogers taught her about the college process.
“Learning about how U.S. colleges work, I started to get worried because college tuition was too expensive, and I knew I couldn’t pay for it,” she said.
After taking advantage of the Rhode Island Promise Program, she enrolled at the University of Rhode Island last semester, and is majoring in marketing.
“I had a great experience at CCRI,” she said. “At first, I didn’t know if it was the right choice, but I feel like I got a lot of resources to succeed.”
With the program now permanent, many more Aquidneck Island students will be able to follow in their footsteps.
“The program is a sound investment in our state’s economic future and provides our students with the opportunity to succeed,” said Meghan Hughes, president of CCRI. “I believe now, more than ever, Rhode Island families need the security of knowing that, no matter their economic situation, their children have a path forward to a quality degree and, with it, a brighter future.”