Critics question Raimondo's free tuition proposal

Rhode Island would be the first state in the country to offer two years of free tuition at state colleges, under a plan put forward by Gov. Gina Raimondo.

"We need to renew and expand our promise so people can meet the challenges of this new economy. And we're expanding it to two extra years of college for everybody, not means tested," Raimondo said Monday.

The program would be offered to students who spend at least their last three years of high school in Rhode Island and who go straight to college after they graduate.

If they go to the Community College of Rhode Island, the two years are free. If they go to Rhode Island College or the University of Rhode Island, the last two years of their four-year program are free.

Raimondo said she believes this will be attractive to businesses considering coming to the state and will give all students a chance to get a degree "without a boatload of debt."

"When I was a kid you could get a good job, most people got a good job with just a high school degree. That's not the same for my kids. Now you need something. Seventy percent of good jobs require some degree or credential past high school, and you shouldn't have to be a millionaire to pay for it," Raimondo said.

But Mike Stenhouse from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity said he believes this is a gesture without justification.

"We need to do public policy not on political correctness or good ideas but by research and study. By what research by what outcome is this cost to taxpayers supposed to have a benefit?" Stenhouse said.

The cost is estimated to be about $30 million a year when fully implemented. Stenhouse said he thinks more attention should be paid to existing educational offerings.

"K through 12 education is not a success in our state. We should focus on educating those children at that age rather than just growing more and more something That we haven't figured out yet in this state," he said.

Raimondo hopes to convince the legislature to pass a law providing the free tuition. She said her budget will outline how to pay for the program without cutting into any existing educational programs.

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