RI just made community college free. Here’s what you need to know

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Lynn Stephen’s daughter, Savannah, just graduated from Cumberland High School and plans to attend the Community College of Rhode Island in the fall.

And because of the new Rhode Island Promise scholarship program signed into law last week, Savannah’s tuition will be free.

“It’s like hitting the lottery, really,” Lynn Stephen said. “My husband is handicapped, he’s disabled, and I work full time, and I have another daughter who’s going into 11th grade, so for our family financially, it’s amazing.”

The new state budget signed Thursday by Gov. Gina Raimondo includes a pared-down version of the free college plan she’s been promoting all year. Raimondo originally proposed two years of free tuition at CCRI, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island, but lawmakers opted to limit the benefit to CCRI.

Now CCRI is preparing for a bigger-than-usual freshman class.

“We’ll see probably around a 20% boost,” explained Sara Enright, CCRI’s vice president of student affairs. “Last year we had just under 1,000 students who were straight out of Rhode Island high schools coming here in the fall, and I think we’ll see something closer to 1,200 this year.”

Enright said interest in the Rhode Island Promise scholarship is growing.

“There are more than 70 students who have already filled out the one-page form that’s required to express your interest and commit to the Rhode Island Promise program,” she said. “That interest is building literally by the hour.”

Who qualifies? 

To qualify for free tuition at CCRI, you have to be a Rhode Island resident and a 2017 high school graduate or GED recipient who was younger than 19 years old when high school was completed.

“It’s not too late,” Enright said. She also warned that this will be those students’ only opportunity to sign up.

“For the class of 2017 graduates, now is the time,” she said. “If you don’t enroll in this program in the fall, it doesn’t exist for you in the spring.”

Rhode Island Promise is a two-year pilot program, so under current law it will only be available for Rhode Island students who finish high school this year and next year. Raimondo has said she hopes it will continue after that and potentially expanded to RIC and URI as she originally proposed.

How to apply

If you’re a prospective student, you can apply to CCRI online. You will also be required to complete the FAFSA, the federal application for financial aid, and take a placement test at CCRI. Placement tests are scheduled regularly. (No test is required to be accepted into CCRI, however.)

If you’d prefer to apply and register in person, CCRI is hosting enrollment events on Aug. 10 and Aug. 17 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m at the Warwick campus. You should bring a photo ID, a copy of your high school transcript and your parents’ 2015 tax forms.

To keep the Rhode Island Promise scholarship, students are required to be enrolled at CCRI full-time and maintain a 2.5 GPA.