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C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. December 20, 2015

Raimondo budget request for scholarships may not include all students

With the cost of college becoming increasingly expensive, Gina Raimondo's campaign for governor included a pledge to make sure no Rhode Island child is excluded from a college education or post-secondary education training.

In a position paper where she spoke of the need to "Improve our statewide scholarship fund," Raimondo said,  "Every single Rhode Islander must have a chance to develop relevant job skills. No Rhode Islander should be left without the ability to support himself or herself in an increasingly competitive job market, and we need every Rhode Islander's contributions to build our new high-growth, high-wage economy.

"As governor," Raimondo pledged, "I will create a statewide scholarship fund that will guarantee that every high school graduate with demonstrated financial need can pursue at least two years of education or training beyond high school that puts them on a path to a career, or to a four-year college."

The executive summary for her proposed budget calls for changing and reinvigorating the scholarship program to the tune of spending $10.1 million versus the $8 million being spent in the current fiscal year. It will be a "last dollar" scholarship program, which means it will fill any gap. As Raimondo spokeswoman Marie Aberger explained in an email, "If tuition, fees, and books are $7,000 and [the] student qualifies for a $5,000 Pell Grant, the last dollar scholarship could cover that $2,000 difference to make higher education attainable. (This will be targeted to students who have a demonstrated financial need.)"

In the current fiscal year, Aberger said, the state "awarded 18,000 grants ranging from $400-$500 to students from Rhode Island attending any public or private university, totaling $8 million. The Governor's proposal would change this to focus on filling that unmet need ("last dollar") so that these scholarships can truly be the difference between a student being able to afford higher education or not – rather than sprinkling smaller sums on a first come, first serve basis."

There are a few caveats.

The money will only be used at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island.

More important, the governor's budget specifies that the investment will be "in students with proven academic performance but for whom higher education might be otherwise unattainable."

Aberger said the academic performance requirement "refers to a student qualifying for higher education – CCRI is one example. More detailed specifics about the scholarships will be set forth in regulations by the Commissioner of Postsecondary Education and the Board of Education. Some scholarships under the program may require students to maintain a certain GPA as deemed by the institution."

One could argue that it's more fiscally prudent to restrict the scholarships to the better students,  but that's not a qualification that Raimondo made during her campaign. She pledged to create a scholarship program for "every high school graduate with [a] demonstrated financial need," not just those with a "proven academic performance."

This is an important distinction. So if the plan is approved, her promise may end up being rated as a Compromise or a Promise Broken. But for now, it's just a budget proposal so we rate this promise In The Works.

In December we revisited this promise and found that thousands of scholarships have been awarded through a bigger state scholarship fund.

We now rate this a Promise Kept.

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