Governor McKee launches $20 million college graduation program

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PROVIDENCE — Rhode Islanders who dropped out of college during the COVID-19 pandemic or did not immediately enter higher education after graduating from high school may 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 Gov. Dan McKee.

The Democratic governor plans to include about $20 million in his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 for Rhode Island Higher Ed Academy, a one-of-a-kind initiative that will prepare students academically for the university or will cover costs that are potentially preventing students from enrolling or re-enrolling in college programs.

“We need to meet Rhode Islanders where they are and help get them the personalized, hands-on help they need to graduate from our colleges and universities,” McKee said. “The academy will help our state get more people back into the workforce into jobs that will not only pay them a living wage, but jobs that will put them on the ground floor of careers.”

If approved by the General Assembly, the program will support more than 1,000 residents of low-income communities starting this summer, offering a four- to eight-week program for students, providing them with academic and financial support to enroll them in college. .

Students will apply to the program and be matched with an advisor who will help them identify barriers preventing them from returning to college, according to Post-Secondary Education Commissioner Shannon Gilkey. He said those obstacles could include anything from car repairs to tuition fees.

Gilkey said no state in the country offers a similar program, but he said it could work similarly to the Rhode Island Reconnect program, which helps residents who want to change careers, seek a new occupation or those who need a certificate or diploma.

“It’s a basic game for higher education,” Gilkey said.

State leaders estimate that 72% of jobs in Rhode Island will require an education beyond a high school diploma by 2030, but only 53% of working-age adults have a college degree. post-secondary studies. Success rates are much lower among black and Latino residents than among their white peers.

“Data from this pandemic and the 2008 recession shows that people without post-secondary education are more likely to be economically impacted than those who do,” Gilkey said. “Their under-representation in paid employment robs them of the opportunities they deserve and robs us all of diverse and representative workplaces. With this academy, the state can help Rhode Islanders who delayed their post-secondary education, left early, want to graduate, or are reconsidering their careers because of the pandemic, achieve their goals.


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.

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