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Governor McKee Hosts Student Roundtable to Highlight Higher Education Investments in #RIReady Budget

WARWICK, RI On Monday morning, Governor Dan McKee, Lt. Governor Sabina Matos, Rhode Island Commissioner of Postsecondary Education Shannon Gilkey, Community College of Rhode Island President Meghan Hughes, and education leaders heard from a dozen Rhode Island adult learners who highlighted the impact of the proposed investments in higher education in the Governor's #RIReady FY24 budget.

Governor McKee's budget proposal includes investing $2.5 million at CCRI with the "Fresh Start" scholarship and an additional $8 million for OPC's RI Reconnect program.

"In my State of the State address, I said that Rhode Island was ready and we are ready to improve education outcomes for students and raise incomes for families," Governor McKee said. "The investments our #RIReady budget proposal makes in the Fresh Start scholarship and RI Reconnect program make it so that students have every opportunity to receive the best education possible and are prepared to enter the workforce. The students we heard from today were shining examples of the successes that can be achieved here in Rhode Island."

"Life is not a single pass/fail endeavor some of the biggest success stories have faltering starts and strong finishes. These programs acknowledge that fact by empowering Rhode Islanders whose education has been interrupted to return to school and complete their degrees," said Lt. Governor Sabina Matos. "I'm proud to support the RI Ready budget's investments in adult learners through the Fresh Start scholarship and the RI Reconnect program."

Fresh Start is a proposed one-semester scholarship that will serve at least 1,000 Rhode Islanders by paying for tuition for the first semester back while resolving past academic and financial aid issues which prohibited them from accessing Pell grants funds and other scholarships necessary to complete their degree in subsequent semesters. It was designed based on the success of the previous GEER-funded COVID Finish Scholarship, which supported more than 800 students' return to CCRI since the start of the pandemic.

"We know that when we successfully enroll a returning college student, they are much more likely to persist and graduate, and this scholarship is a demonstration of our commitment to help get them back and regain that momentum," said CCRI President Hughes. "The Fresh Start scholarship will give returning adult students the financial support and the confidence to complete their degree and either transfer to earn a baccalaureate degree or position themselves to advance in their careers. I applaud the Governor for understanding that an investment in higher education is an investment in our people, our economy, and our state."

Rhode Island Reconnect helps adult students returning to any school, public or private, by connecting them to educational navigators who guide them to resources at postsecondary institutions and workforce training providers as well as assisting them with out-of-pocket costs not covered by tuition and financial aid. In three years, RI Reconnect helped 2,317 Rhode Islanders re-enroll in college, enroll for the first time, get job training, and secure jobs.

"The Governor's ardent support for higher education is evident by his FY24 funding proposal to help approximately 1,000 Rhode Islanders as they seek barrier-breaking services offered by RI Reconnect," said Commissioner Shannon Gilkey. "Degree and credential attainment is essential for Rhode Islanders to be ready for the jobs that are essential to our state's economy."

Adult learners impacted by the RI Reconnect program and recent graduates of CCRI who benefitted from the COVID Finish Scholarship shared how these two programs helped them earn their degrees and industry-recognized credentials and to support additional funding so that many more adult learners can do the same. The students and graduates also spoke to the tremendous community of support on their return to the classroom after many years.

Amanda Forget of Woonsocket, shared with the group how receiving the COVID Finish scholarship allowed her to return to CCRI after a decade and provided the momentum she needed to graduate and transfer to RIC, where she is enrolled in the Bachelor of Professional Studies program.

"The financial burden of college on anyone at any age is difficult, but as an adult with established homes, families, work, and other obligations, education becomes even more difficult to attain no matter how much you want it," Amanda said. "Taking the financial aspect away and knowing that you can devote your time to the work, and not worry how you're going to pay for it, made all the difference for me; and I know the Fresh Start scholarship can do the same for many more people like me."

Keri Kearns, 52, of Bristol, sought assistance from RI Reconnect when she needed to reenter the workforce after home-schooling her child. She enrolled in the process technology workforce training program at OPC's Westerly Education Center and after 10 weeks of training earned three credits from CCRI and an industry-valued credential. She was hired by Thielsch Engineering in Cranston as a lab technician and vouches that, "It's a thousand percent better than working in retail."

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