By Lynn Arditi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island College has offered 90 juniors from Central Falls High School “conditional acceptance” to its Class of 2020 as part of a unique partnership between the public college and the state’s poorest city.
The high school juniors represent the top 50 percent of their class with an average GPA of 3.0. Many of the students would be the first in their families to attend college, said Amy Burns, a spokeswoman for Central Falls High School.
The partnership is aimed at helping students navigate the educational and financial hurdles leading up to college, in a community where the median household income in 2013 was just under $28,000.
“A lot of times there’s this misconception that they can’t afford college,” Burns said. “We want to make them aware of the opportunities afforded to them … . So it’s kind of, why not dream big?”
The students must keep up their grades, take the SAT or ACT tests, fill out the FAFSA form for financial aid and earn a “certificate of reliability” from Central Falls High School, which includes having no unexcused absences during the first quarter of their senior year.
Students also are required to fill out an application to RIC (the $50 application fee will be waived) regardless of whether they wind up attending. Students who enroll at RIC will receive waivers on the $200 enrollment deposit fee and the $220 housing deposit fee.
All students who meet the requirements and go on to attend college — whether a two-year or four-year institution — or enter the military will be allowed to keep the Google Chromebook laptops loaned to them during the school year. “It’s a huge incentive,” Burns said.
The program is part of the Central Falls/Rhode Island College Innovation Lab, a teaching and research partnership started two years ago that combines urban education, community development and health and wellness programming.
The effort already has helped draw more students from Central Falls to RIC, said Laura Hart, a college spokeswoman. So far, 23 graduates of Central Falls High School have submitted deposits to enter RIC in the fall, she said. That’s just over twice the number of students in RIC’s Class of 2015 who listed Central Falls as their hometown.
On Tuesday, the 90 students toured the RIC campus, attended an orientation and received their college ID cards.
“Rhode Island College is proud to provide these talented students with a pathway to higher education and future careers,” RIC President Nancy Carriuolos said in a statement. “RIC’s affordable tuition and strong academic programming make it the logical next step for high-achieving Central Falls graduates.”
The partnership’s organizers also have scheduled meetings with their parents — one during the day and another in the evening to accommodate work schedules — so they can get involved early with the college application process, Burns said. Parents will receive financial aid information that will be available in four languages.
“Our families are amazed and delighted,” Central Falls School Supt. Fran Gallo said in a statement. “Their dream of college for their children is attainable … . Knowing a year early that this possibility is a reality is supremely exciting for each and every family member.”
School officials also said they hope the program will have a “trickle-down” effect on ninth- and 10th-grade students to follow their older peers’ example.