I am writing to respond to statements that appeared yesterday in the publication GoLocal Prov about the Rhode Island Promise program. The article quotes a faculty member as stating “I wouldn’t call RI Promise a success or good use of taxpayer money.” This assertion is simply not supported by the data and I want you to have the correct information about the program because it matters – to our college and to our students.
The purpose of the Promise program is to provide more Rhode Islanders with an affordable pathway to a postsecondary degree because that is what high-quality jobs in today’s economy require. Because of your incredible commitment and our students’ hard work, the program is succeeding.
First, we enrolled 43 percent more first-time, full-time straight out of high school Rhode Islanders in 2017 than we did in 2016. We saw even greater percentage growth with our Pell students (54 percent). This growth brought $3.6 million in federal Pell grants to support our first Rhode Island Promise class, making a college education possible for our students and allowing us to make investments in college-wide initiatives such as the Math Emporium and Guided Pathways, initiatives that benefit all of our students.
62.4 percent of our Promise students returned in the fall of 2018. This retention rate mirrors the national first-time, full-time fall-to-fall retention rate of 62 percent and outperforms the 58 percent achieved by the Tennessee Promise program for community colleges in its first year. Promise students are returning for the second year at the same rate as their peers, even with the credit accumulation and GPA requirements for Promise Scholarship eligibility.
Here’s what the data tells us: We have nearly four times the number of first-time, full-time students on track to graduate in two years compared to last year’s cohort. Our college and our Promise students achieved remarkable gains. In one year, CCRI has jumped from having just 6 percent of these students earning 30 college-level credits in their first year, merely half the national average of 12 percent, to achieving a 22 percent rate with the first class of Rhode Island Promise students – nearly double the national average. Based on this early indicator, I am confident that we will see a dramatic increase in our two-year graduation rate in 2019. When we look forward to 2020, I believe we will experience significant gains to our three-year graduation rate as well, gains that should represent one of the highest three-year graduation rates in New England.
I am deeply proud of the excellent teaching and student support happening at our college every single day. That teaching and support benefits all of our students and drives the gains our first class of Promise students is showing. I believe what this college and our students have achieved with this first year is among the most significant gains realized by a first year Promise program of any community college in our country. We will build upon what is working and improve where we need to. We have a distance still to go. We need to continue to retain our students, ensure they are learning effectively and support many more of them to graduation and onto rewarding careers and four-year institutions.
Our students need to know they have our support and that we believe in them. I had lunch today with some second-year Promise students and their stories say it best. Many of them wouldn’t have gone to college at all without Promise. They described the support they are receiving here, their motivation to graduate and their hopefulness about the impact this program is making on their lives. I’m so proud of them, and I’m so proud of all of you for believing in them and for believing we can do this well. Let’s keep going forward together.