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Rhode Island's 'Crusade' Offers College Aid, Mentoring Program

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Gov. Edward D. DiPrete of Rhode Island has announced the creation of a new state program to provide college scholarships to low-income students and to supply all students with volunteer mentors beginning in the 3rd grade.

In exchange for money and guidance, students signing up for the plan would agree to reject drugs, avoid pregnancy, and submit to state review of their grades, among other conditions.

Governor DiPrete said the program would begin with students entering the 3rd grade in 1991. When the students reached their senior year in high school, the program would offer annual scholarships of about $3,500--the projected cost of attending the University of Rhode Island in 2001--to those classified as "economically disadvantaged."

Mr. DiPrete signed an executive order establishing the program, called the "Children's Crusade for Higher Education," on Aug. 31.

Funding Needed

Before the program can begin, however, state officials must raise the money to pay for it. Efforts are already under way to obtain $10 million in seed money from state businesses and foundations.

In addition, Mr. DiPrete plans to ask the legislature to provide $3.2 million a year for the program, according to Leila Mahoney, a senior assistant to the Governor. Mr. DiPrete also has said he will be "knocking on the door of the White House for a significant contribution."

Contributions would go into the program's endowment, which sponsors hope will reach $50 million by 2001. The endowment would supply the scholarships, cover administrative costs, and pay for a small summer-job program for 7th through 12th graders.

Officials also said they plan to sign up educators, business leaders, and other citizens from all socioeconomic levels to serve as unpaid mentors for students.

The program has three goals, Ms. Mahoney explained. It aims to reduce the number of dropouts in the state by 800 a year; increase the number of "job ready" high-school graduates by 1,600 annually; and add 880 students each year to the ranks of the college-bound.

There are about 10,000 3rd graders in the state each year, about one-third of whom will eventually be eligible for financial aid, Ms. Mahoney said. "We anticipate that we'll have room for everyone" in the program, she predicted.

Ms. Mahoney also said the state will offer a "money-back guarantee" to contributors to the endowment. If the program fails to meet its goals, she promised, "We'll give every investor their initial investment back."

Mixed Reaction

Education policymakers in the state greeted Mr. DiPrete's proposal with a mixture of skepticism and excitement.

"I have a lot of problems with the program," said Senator Dick Patterson, chairman of the Senate finance committee. He questioned the wisdom of asking 3rd graders to enter into a "contract" in exchange for state aid, for example. "I wonder if they realize what they're doing?" he asked.

Mr. Patterson also cited several existing state programs that "ought to be funded before we appropriate money for a new one."

But State Senator David Sholes, chairman of the Senate health, education, and welfare committee, called the program "a laudable concept."

Harvey Press, president of the National Education Association Rhode Island, said he was "very excited about the program."

The state Board of Governors for Higher Education has endorsed the proposal, which was designed by the board's commissioner, Americo W. Petrocelli.

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