Gov. Gina Raimondo hosted a media conference call with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam Thursday. It’s the latest move in Democrat Raimondo’s efforts to rally support for her plan to provide two years of free tuition at the state’s public institutions.
In 2014, Tennessee became the first state to offer its residents two years of free college at a community or technical school, only requiring that they have graduated high school and maintain the school’s enrollment standards.
Republican Haslam says he took on the issue of free college tuition in 2012 after he learned that 55 percent of jobs in the state would require more than a high school diploma by 2025 – at the time only 32 percent of residents met the criteria. In Rhode Island, Raimondo says 70 percent of jobs would require more than a high school education.
“I think one of the best things I can do to support the needs of the business community is to upskill Rhode Island, so we have a chance to be competitive,” said Raimondo.
A plan proposed by Raimondo would offer two years free tuition at the four-year schools, University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College, as well as the Community College of Rhode Island.
Raimondo’s estimates say the program will cost about $10 million initially and eventually $30 million annually.
During a Q&A, a Rhode Island business leader asked Haslam if his projected costs increased once students were allowed to sign up.
Haslam says his state’s estimates were accurate in predicting demand and that not every student will take the option.
According to Haslam, even if some students move away after their schooling, it’s better than having an unemployable workforce.
“I’ll bet we come out way, way, way ahead just with the fact that we can offer people a lot more realistic chance of having a good paying job when they’re done,” said Haslam.
Raimondo says her proposal is an investment in Rhode Island’s future work needs.
Her plan has gotten endorsements from some business and university leaders, but has faced a lukewarm reception from some in the General Assembly, and its fate remains unclear.