RI State Grant Recipients More Likely to Graduate College, but Grant’s Purchasing Power Weakening, NEBHE Study Finds

Rhode Island students who received the Rhode Island State Grant were 19 percentage points more likely to complete a degree than students who never received the grant, according to a new study by the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE). Recent decreases in the maximum grant award and increases in tuition and mandatory fees, however, weaken the grant’s purchasing power for future students.

The report outlines preliminary findings from NEBHE’s study of the Rhode Island State Grant program. It identifies a number of ways the grant may affect access to and completion of a postsecondary credential. Among these findings:

  • Two-thirds of Rhode Island students who received the Rhode Island State Grant had enough financial need to qualify for a federal Pell Grant, a common proxy for low income;
  • 58% of students who received the Rhode Island State Grant completed a certificate or degree, compared with 39% of students who never received an award; and
  • A majority of state grant recipients enrolled at one of Rhode Island’s public institutions, whose rising tuition combined with declining grant award amounts have resulted in a dramatic loss of grant purchasing power.

A majority of students in the study began college in academic year 2006-07, when the grant covered a much greater share of tuition and mandatory fees. In 2006-07, the maximum award was $1,400, compared with $500 in 2014-15. Combined with climbing tuition and fees, these decreases in award amounts have lowered the share of college costs the grant covers for current and future students.

The report comes as part of NEBHE’s Redesigning Student Aid in New England (Redesigning Aid), a two-year initiative funded by Lumina Foundation focused on exploring how states might redesign and align their student financial aid policies, priorities and programs with state goals to increase postsecondary attainment.

The report points out additional areas for study around the Rhode Island State Grant, especially linking to other aspects of state policy that affect postsecondary attainment, such as appropriations to public institutions and statewide college enrollment initiatives. As all New England states face competing demands for limited state funds, further research into the most effective use of state dollars in higher education is more critical than ever.

Gretchen Syverud is a policy research analyst at NEBHE.


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