Two years ago, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, in an obvious bid to curry favor of liberal-progressives who had been activated and mobilized in the prior two years by the 2015-16 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, created a free tuition program called Rhode Island Promise. In a state where urban minority unemployment has remained high, the project was seen by many BIPOC high schoolers and their parents as a life preserver, one that could mean better futures for those who put their nose to the grindstone and enrolled with the free tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island.
Then reality set in.
The problem was that the credit load requirements and expectations being put upon students, many of whom worked to support themselves and family members, were simply unfair. Earlier this year, I covered a faculty union protest at CCRI opposing the Winter J-Term, a requirement that crammed an entire semester into 12 classroom days. As someone who matriculated through CCRI this year to complete four classes, I can personally attest that curriculum there is rigorous and such a cramming project is simply begging for an adjective like ‘Kafkaesque.’ Rhode Island actually has a heritage of free tuition that, while not being as charitable as the CUNY system in New York, does bear mentioning. The late RI Sen. Claiborne Pell lent his name to both the grants that paid for an entire generation of students in the postwar era as well as a large bridge in the southern part of the state that stands as a kind of monument to the old-fashioned New Deal/Great Society liberal tradition that he hailed from.
My theory, which could be completely wrong, is that Raimondo and the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party that she hails from can now point to these results as a great reason why the free tuition policy demand being put forward by the Sanders-aligned social democratic wing of the party is not just fiscally irresponsible but outright utopian. (Nevermind that entire generations of school teachers in New York state, including this author’s maternal grandmother, were trained for free by CUNY!) “Look at Rhode Island, they tried free tuition and the students bombed at the grades.”
Were that the case, the fact they used those most vulnerable to the appeals of such a welfare state program, poor and working class kids from minority backgrounds, to derive such a political debating point would be one of the most despicable things imaginable. Raimondo has a long history of corporate education deform policies that prey on such student demographics, such as her deep fundraising ties to the corporate charter schools that get their capital from the hedge fund industry. Also her husband, First Gentleman Andrew Moffit, is a charter school industrial player himself.
Here are the preliminary results of the RI Promise program. The question now is whether this makes the grade. This data was provided by Prof. Steve Forleo and the analysis presented below is by Prof. Jean Billerbeck, both CCRI faculty members.