Higher Education: A Pathway to Opportunity
Making Higher Education Affordable and Effective for All Rhode Islanders
A Note from Gina…
Like so many other Rhode Islanders, my family’s American story began with an immigrant from overseas coming to our state with little money and a lot of hope. My mom’s father worked hard for his family and learned English in the Providence public library. She is a graduate of Bryant College. My dad’s father also raised his family to value education, so when his son – my father – returned home from World War II, he and thousands of others were quick to take advantage of a new program for returning veterans: the GI Bill. With that help from the government, my father was able to get a college degree, which put him on a path to a quality job in manufacturing. Higher education was literally a ladder to the middle class for my family – and it continues to offer a path to prosperity for thousands today.
Unfortunately, a college degree in Rhode Island is growing further and further out of reach. Rhode Island families are finding it harder and harder to get by; and with college costs growing higher by the year, access to higher education is at risk of becoming a luxury that only the well-off can afford. Those who do choose to attend college often graduate deeply in debt, handicapping their financial
independence. We cannot allow this to happen. In an era of unprecedented income inequality, and at a time when Rhode Island needs an educated workforce more than ever, we must rededicate ourselves to ensuring access to high quality, effective post-secondary learning opportunities.
Individuals with post-secondary degrees and certificates are more likely to have a job than those without. They earn more money, and have access to better health and retirement benefits. They are less likely to rely on government services, reducing costs for our state.
And they make our state more competitive, by attracting new jobs and new businesses to our borders, and cultivating a spirit of entrepreneurship.
Throughout this campaign, I have spoken often about positioning Rhode Island to succeed long into the future. Investing in higher education is one of the best ways to do just that. I want Rhode Island to be a leader in cutting-edge industries: industries where we can use our state’s unique advantages to make a name for ourselves. But that is going to require a cutting-edge workforce, trained in advanced manufacturing, engineering and technology. It’s going to require a public education system that is accessible to any Rhode Islander who wants to start a new career. And it’s going to require that we do more to help out those Rhode Islanders who are burdened by debt, but want to live and work here in our state.
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. The following pages outline my plans for ensuring that our public colleges are preparing Rhode Islanders for success, while remaining affordable and accessible. I look forward to working with you to make this vision a reality.
College Scholarship Fund
Earning a post-secondary degree or credential is no longer just a pathway to opportunity for a select few; it is an essential component of job growth in the future economy. Over the next 10 years, employment in jobs requiring education beyond a high school diploma will grow more rapidly than employment in jobs that do not. Of the 30 fastest-growing occupations, more than half require postsecondary education.
Help Wanted, a report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analyzing occupation data and workforce trends, projects that approximately 61 percent of Rhode Island’s jobs will require postsecondary education by 2018. Between now and 2018, Rhode Island will need to fill 153,000 vacancies resulting from job creation, worker retirements and other factors. Of these job vacancies, 93,000 will require postsecondary credentials. But if the current rate of degree production continues, only about 51 percent of Rhode Island’s adult population — 294,000 people — will hold a college degree in 2025. It is evident that Rhode Island’s economic future depends on producing more college graduates.
A degree or credential from a college or university is one of the surest paths to the middle class.
Average earnings of college graduates are at a level that is twice as high as that of workers with only a high school degree. People with a college degree are more likely to be employed than those without one, and more likely to be employed in a job that provides quality health and retirement benefits.
Unfortunately, with expenses growing higher and higher, a college degree and a ladder to the middle class is growing further out of reach for more Rhode Islanders. No Rhode Islander should be denied a college degree simply because of financial difficulty.
That’s why as governor, I will work with the Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority to create and endow a new scholarship fund for any student who is academically qualified and wants to earn a post-secondary degree at one of our state’s public colleges. In order to be eligible for this scholarship, students will have to demonstrate financial need, and earn a high-school GPA of 3.0 or higher. If they qualify, the scholarship fund will cover some or all tuition expenses and fees for any applicant after all other financial aid is applied.
The Scholarship Fund will make a college education at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, or the Community College of Rhode Island a reality for any Rhode Island high school student who wants a degree, but cannot afford to attend college.
Example: The Tennessee Promise
Tennessee recently introduced a program to offer “last-dollar” scholarships, meant to bridge the gap for students after all of their financial aid options are exhausted. The Tennessee Promise program offers an opportunity to all of the state’s graduating seniors, regardless of their socioeconomic status, to obtain a certificate, bachelor’s or associate’s degree from a state college or university.All recipients are required to work with an assigned mentor, maintaining satisfactory academic progress, and perform a day of community service each semester. The program is funded by an endowment capitalized by the state’s excess lottery reserves.
Cost: Providing a last-dollar scholarship for eligible students will likely cost somewhere between $10 and $15 million per year. The Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority currently has in
Loan Forgiveness Program
Rhode Island is fortunate to be the home of many world-class colleges and universities. Unfortunately, we’re losing too many of our best and brightest after they graduate, making our state less economically competitive, while increasing the strain on government services and undermining our tax base. A recent report by WPRI showed that 10 percent of “prime working-age” Rhode Islanders (25-54) have left the state between 2006 and 2012 to find jobs elsewhere.i
At the same time, the number of citizens aged 55 and older jumped 19 percent. Older Rhode Islanders are staying in the state but aren’t being replaced by a new generation of younger, working residents.
Rhode Islanders 65 and older made up a larger share of the population than any other age group in 2012, whereas they were only the third largest in 2006.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island college students have the fourth highest student loan debt in the country according to a report released in 2012.ii
Having creative, economically productive young people in our state is critical to our future well-being, but right now, Rhode Islanders are leaving our state because there simply are no opportunities for them.
I will work with our state’s employers to create a loan forgiveness program for students who put down roots in Rhode Island after graduating from one of our colleges or universities. 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 businesses grow and thrive.
Example: the New Hampshire “Stay Work Play” Initiative
A New Hampshire program for retaining and recruiting younger workers – “Stay Work Play” – is an excellent model for Rhode Island. New Hampshire Governor John Lynch issued an Executive Order in 2008 to create a Task Force to analyze the issue of student loan debt, and develop recommendations for his consideration. The Task Force was composed of young professionals and representatives from business, government, the non-profit sector, education, labor and statewide associations. In 2009, the Governor’s Task Force for the Recruitment and Retention of Young Workforce for New Hampshire released a report that made many recommendations on how efforts to attract and retain young workers could be advanced and why New Hampshire is well-positioned to be a place where these young workers would want to stay, work and play. The new Stay Work Play Challenge Grant incentive program helps address these items directly by showcasing New Hampshire employers who agree to contribute $8,000 to pay down federal college loans of newly hired New Hampshire graduates over the first four years of their employment. Students must have graduated from a New Hampshire college or university within the last 18 months and have been hired by the company within the last 12 months.
Reinvesting in our Community College
The Community College of Rhode Island is one of our state’s greatest educational resources. Whether you’re 18 years old and just graduating from college, or a 50-year-old who was recently let go, every Rhode Islander can turn to CCRI to get the education and training they need to start a new career. It is currently the single biggest supplier of health care workers in the state, and has helped scores of Rhode Islanders go on to earn a four-year degree.
But CCRI has tremendous untapped potential, in a time when Rhode Island needs it most. Community Colleges are increasingly becoming the engines of workforce development in our country, equipping thousands with certificates and associate degrees in high-demand, high-growth industries that provide good jobs with quality benefits. We can work together to ensure that CCRI is doing the same.
Developing Curriculum to Train Students in Skills Employers Need
Today’s jobs require increasingly technical skills. They demand knowledge in science, technology, engineering, design and mathematics. No one knows these needs better than employers in our state looking for employees with these talents.
A degree or certificate from CCRI should equip graduates with the types of skills that employers are looking for. That’s why we need to ensure that our state’s businesses are working hand-in-hand with CCRI to tailor curriculum for the jobs of the future.
As governor, I will open an office at CCRI dedicated to bringing businesses to the table to identify the needs of employers, design curriculum that reflect those needs, and equipping the school with the types of programs, equipment and facilities they need to train students so that they are put on a pathway to a job in an in-demand industry.
Imagine, for example, a Rhode Island boat builder being able to sit down with CCRI to explain the various types of engineering and construction skills it needs for its employees, and working with the school to develop a brand new certificate in that area. The boat builder could not only help the school tailor the curriculum; it could work with its entire industry to provide CCRI with the types of
equipment and facilities it would need to train its students.
An office like this would not be unprecedented in Rhode Island: The University of Rhode Island already has a Business Engagement Center dedicated to partnering businesses and industries with the University to put students to work, tailor the school’s curriculum and share research. Our entire state should have a similar coordinated effort to connect businesses with our institutions of higher learning.
Creating Clinical Opportunities in Partnership with Employers
Learning doesn’t just happen in classrooms: it happens on manufacturing floors, in kitchens and on worksites. Students earning their degrees at CCRI should have greater access to hands-on learning opportunities, and internship-for-credit classes that lead directly to employment.
Imagine again if that same boat builder working with CCRI to develop a training program also offered a for-credit program where students had the opportunity to work at their facilities a couple of days per week. Students would be learning the trade with professors in a classroom setting, and then putting that education into practice at the same time.
Businesses see the value of these kinds of initiatives, and are willing to invest in the schools and
Example: The BMW Scholars Program in South Carolina
In South Carolina, automobile manufacturer BMW works with Tri-County Technical College, Spartanburg Community College, and Greenville Technical College to train students in a specialized manufacturing program. BMW provides tuition assistance for students enrolled in the program, while employing them part-time in BMW’s manufacturing facilities. The program allows students to “further their education while gaining valuable experience in a high-tech manufacturing environment and become potential candidates for full-time positions at BMW.”iii
Helping More CCRI Students Graduate
With so many Rhode Islanders turning to CCRI to prepare for their careers, it is in the best interests of the entire state to ensure that they have the resources they need to see it through and earn their degrees.
Students at CCRI come to college with varying degrees of preparation. The reality is that some students are more prepared than others. Each individual starts their time at CCRI with a different life experience, a different education and oftentimes a different socio-economic background.
For these reasons and others, CCRI graduates only about 10 percent of its students. We must do better.
We need to do a better job of standing by our community college students as they face the challenge of earning their degrees.
As governor, I will commit to doubling the graduation rate at CCRI in my first term by working with administrators, counselors and educators to identify why the school’s graduation rate is so low, and how it can be remedied.
Other community colleges around the country have successful addressed the problem of low graduation rates. We can do the same.
Example: Accelerated Study in Associates Programs (ASAP) at the City University of New York When the City University of New York system of community colleges found that it was graduating fewer than 16 percent of its students in three years, it worked with the city to launch the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP). ASAP is designed to help motivated community college students earn their degrees as quickly as possible, with a goal of graduating at least 50 percent of students within three years. Due to a variety of stresses and responsibilities, too many community college students are not able to complete their associate degrees in a timely manner, if at all. ASAP helps to eliminate these stresses by providing select community college students with the academic, social and financial support they need to graduate with an Associate in Arts or Associate in Applied Science degree in no more than three years. For example, students in the program participate in a consolidated block schedule, have small class sizes and are provided with full-time study and
comprehensive advisement and career development services. They are also given financial incentives, including tuition waivers for financial aid eligible students, free use of textbooks and monthly
Metrocards for all students.