PROVIDENCE — Rhode Islanders who have dropped out of college during the COVID-19 pandemic or who didn’t immediately enter higher education after graduating from high school could soon be eligible for thousands of dollars in tuition, child care, and other expenses that will help them return to school under a new proposal from Governor Dan McKee.
The Democratic governor plans to include approximately $20 million in his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 for the Rhode Island Higher Ed Academy, a first-of-its-kind initiative that will prepare students academically for college or cover costs that are potentially preventing students from enrolling or re-enrolling in college programs.
“We must meet Rhode Islanders where they are, and help give them the personalized, hands-on help they need to earn their credentials from our colleges and universities,” McKee said. “The academy will help our state get more people back into the workforce in jobs that will not only earn them living wages, but jobs that put them at the ground floor of careers.”
If approved by the General Assembly, the program will support more than 1,000 residents from low-income communities beginning this summer, offering a four-to-eight-week program for students, providing them with academic and financial support to get them enrolled in college.
Students will apply for the program and be matched with an advisor who will help them determine which barriers are preventing them from going back to college, according to Postsecondary Education Commissioner Shannon Gilkey. He said those barriers could include anything from car repairs to tuition.
Gilkey said there is no state in the country that is offering a similar program, but he said it could function similar to the Rhode Island Reconnect program, which helps residents who want to change careers, seeking a new trade, or those in need of a certificate or degree.
“This is a ground game for higher education,” Gilkey said.
State leaders believe that 72 percent of jobs in Rhode Island will require education beyond a high school diploma by 2030, but only 53 percent of working-age adults have a postsecondary credential. Attainment rates are far lower among Black and Latino residents than their white peers.
“Data from this pandemic and the 2008 recession show that people without postsecondary credentials are more likely to be economically impacted than those who do,” Gilkey said. “Their underrepresentation in living wage jobs robs them of opportunities they deserve, and robs all of us from diverse, representative workplaces. With this academy, the state can help Rhode Islanders who delayed going on to postsecondary, left before completion, want to earn a credential, or who are reconsidering their careers because of the pandemic, achieve their goals.”