Dooley: Free tuition plan would mean about 200 more students a year

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The University of Rhode Island’s president said if Gov. Gina Raimondo’s free tuition plan is passed and fully implemented, his staff is projecting enrollment to increase at the flagship school by roughly 200 students a year.

“Which is an important increment,” Dooley said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “But when you have an entering class of 3,400 – if that goes to 3,600 – it’s not a huge delta.”

Enrollment at URI has been on the rise – especially among out-of-state students – in recent years. So whether Raimondo’s plan passes or not, Dooley said, they have been preparing for enrollment to continue to climb.

“We are on a steady trajectory of incremental growth because we think that fits our mission and our vision for where we want to be for a research university,” he explained.

Dooley said the university is prepared to add staff and more housing, which would be paid for through revenue generated from room and board fees.

“So it wouldn’t have any budgetary impact on the state if enrollment grew a little bit more than what we have been over the last several years,” he added.

Raimondo’s original proposal indicated students entering their junior and senior years of college – which would be free under her plan – would have to maintain a 2.0 grade point average (GPA). But Dooley said he has been told the final legislation will likely not have a set requirement for a GPA to maintain free tuition.

“I think the way it’s going to come out in the final legislation, we’re told, is the students have to maintain ‘good academic standing,’” said Dooley. “What that means is in the judgement of the institutions and the programs that they’re enrolled in, they have to be prepared to go onto their junior year.”

He went on to say, “depending on the program, that might translate to a variety of different actual GPA points.”

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has been lukewarm to Raimondo’s idea. Dooley said he has met with Mattiello to discuss the proposal.

“I think he has reservations which he’s expressed,” Dooley said. “From a public policy standpoint we think this is a very good policy for the state of Rhode Island.” He also emphasized that Mattiello has been extremely supportive of URI over recent years.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook