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August 04, 2017

Rhode Island is offering free community college to some qualified students.

On Thursday, Rhode Island lawmakers approved a new state budget that makes community college tuition-free for recent high school graduates who enroll full-time, maintain at least a 2.5 grade-point average and stay in Rhode Island for two years after graduation.

In January, Governor Gina Raimondo proposed a much broader plan that would cover tuition and mandatory fees for the first two years at Rhode Island's only community college or the last two years at the state's four-year schools.

Raimondo's office estimated that her plan would cost $30 million each year and benefit up to 8,000 students, but lawmakers in Providence committed just $3 million for the pilot year. That's only enough to cover community college for about 2,000 students.

Rhode Island is now the fourth state offering some form of free college tuition, joining New York, Oregon and Tennessee.

Higher education analysts, though, say Rhode Island's program is a glorified merit scholarship designed to keep graduates in the Ocean State.

“This program will likely benefit a small percentage of students who are recent high school graduates and can attend full-time,” said Robert Kelchen, who researches higher education policy at Seton Hall University. 

“At least some students who get the grant will have to pay it back if they get a job offer or have a family obligation out of state after college.”

Related: Could Rhode Island Make Free College A Reality? 

Earlier: How New York’s Free College Plan Could Disrupt Higher Ed Market 

confronting cost, increasing access and success, free college, higher ed, rhode island

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