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Colleges in Rhode Island

Why go to College in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island, the smallest state in the U.S., has made big strides in making college more affordable. State residents can complete two years of college entirely tuition free if they attend a public university through the Rhode Island Promise program. Rhode Island is friendly to out-of-state students as well. The state’s small population means that fewer people can compete for the same amount of scholarships and grant funding. Plus, both on-campus colleges and online schools in Rhode Island offer affordable and highly regarded academic programs.


Rhode Island has one of the smallest state populations in the U.S. of 1,056,426 people. Providence is the largest city in Rhode Island, with a population of just over 173,000.


Rhode Island has short summers and long, cold winters. The state also gets a considerable amount of snow – 34 inches a year — so Rhode Island’s winters aren’t for the faint of heart.

Number of Higher Learning Institutions

Rhode Island has 37 public and private universities. Many of the major higher learning institutions, including some online schools in Rhode Island, are based out of Providence.

Sporting Events

Despite its small size, Rhode Island is home to several minor-league sports teams: the Pawtucket Red Sox baseball team, the Providence Bruins ice hockey team, and the Rhode Island Reds Soccer Team. But bad news for football fans, Rhode Island has no football team.


Rhode Island’s nightlife scene certainly isn’t on par with New York City’s. That said, Providence has a respectable bar and club scene for students who want to enjoy the social aspects of the college experience.

What Options are Available for Colleges in Rhode Island?


Students who want to have the traditional college experience should attend a four-year, on-campus college in Rhode Island. These programs offer in-person classes, which allow students to regularly engage with their peer and professors. The on-campus experience also means that students live in residence halls and participate in traditional college students life experiences like sporting events, student government, and a variety of clubs and other activities. However, all of this means extra fees and expenses, making this the most expensive way to earn a degree.

Online Programs

Students can also opt to enroll in online colleges in Rhode Island. Instead of commuting to a campus for classes, online students complete their degree over the internet. Online classes can be organized into a few different structures. Some classes involve discussions through chat rooms or over Skype, while others have students independently read online material a complete assignments.

Online degrees are ideal for students who work full-time, parents who must prioritize caring for their children, those without consistent access to transportation, and those who cannot afford to live on campus. Online schools in Rhode Island provide students with a fair degree of flexibility when it comes to choosing the number of classes they enroll in per semester, as well as when and where to study. If you value independence and flexibility then you should consider enrolling in one of the many online college in Rhode Island.

Hybrid Programs

Hybrid programs are a mixture of online and on-campus instruction. These hybrid programs come in a variety of formats: some include entire courses that are hosted in-person, while others have courses that are taught online but include required in-person discussions. Hybrid programs are ideal for students who want to benefit from both the flexibility of an online program and the in-person interactions with other students and instructors found in on-campus courses.

Popular Degree Programs in Rhode Island

Like other states, Rhode Island’s most popular degree programs prepare students for careers in its popular industries. The large immigrant population of Rhode Island has resulted in many opportunities for those with an international and intercultural studies degree. Rhode Island also has a thriving business sector, which is ideal for those with a business management and administration degree.

  • International and Intercultural Studies

    International studies programs explore the relationships between peoples and nations across national borders. The number of immigrants in Rhode Island contributes to the the popularity of this major in the state. Roughly 13.3% of Rhode Island residents are immigrants, which is on par with the national percentage of immigrants in the U.S. Rhode Island’s small size, with just over one million residents, makes its concentrated immigrant population a large part of the state’s identity.

  • Business Management and Administration

    Business management and administration programs covers several different sub-fields of study, including business management, marketing, economics, finance, and business ethics. Business management and administration programs also encompass two of Rhode Island’s top industries: sales and office and administrative support services.

Education Trends in Rhode Island

The percentage of Rhode Island’s adult population who have a college degree is on par with the rest of the country, also the state (12.8%) is slightly above the national average (11.2%) when it comes to residents with graduate degrees. However, Rhode Island invests drastically less in higher education than the rest of the country. In fact, Rhode Island spends on average $2,000 less per student than all other states. Additionally, Rhode Island allocates half as much of its tax revenue towards higher education when compared to the rest of the U.S.

  Rhode Island United States
Source: SHEEO and U.S. Census
Postsecondary Education Spending per Full-Time Student $4,785 $6,954
Percent of Tax Revenue Allocated to Higher Education 2.8% 5.8%
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree 8.5% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor’s degree 19.1% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree or higher 12.8% 11.2%

Paying for College in Rhode Island

A college education is the first large expense for many young people in the U.S. Therefore, it is important for students to dedicate a considerable amount of time towards calculating college costs and determining how they can lower these costs. Regardless of whether you want to study on-campus or online, you’ll have to come up with a way to pay for tuition and various other fees and costs. Below, you’ll find information about the costs of higher education in Rhode Island and financial aid options that can help you finance your education.

Tuition Prices

Since Rhode Island doesn’t dedicated as much of its tax revenue towards higher education, it should be no surprise that the state’s tuition costs are considerably higher than the national average. When calculating the costs of your education, remember that you’ll also have to budget for books, transportation, rent, and other costs as well.

Financial Aid

Given the amount of federal funding the state’s legislature dedicates to higher education, all students planning to enroll in college in Rhode Island should apply for financial aid. Students can take advantage of several different types of financial aid: student loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study programs. Scholarships and grants do not need to be payed back, making them much more attractive than student loans. Many scholarships and grants require that students have a high academic standing and sometimes include an extra component like an essay or letters of recommendation. Students should also fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), allowing them to qualify for federal financial aid.

Cost for Online Programs in Rhode Island

Online schools in Rhode Island tend to have similar tuition costs as on-campus colleges in the state. However, online students can save on transportation costs, child care, and other expenses by not studying on-campus. Students have the same access to financial aid from the federal government and through private loans and scholarships, which makes online programs an affordable alternative to on-campus study. If you apply to attend an online college in Rhode Island, then you should fill out the FAFSA and apply for as many funding options as you can find to help ease the financial burden of tuition payments.

Cost of Living by Region

Cost of living is determined using a variety of factors, including the prices of rent, transportation, food, and other necessary expenses. This is important to consider when choosing a college because it can impact both the price of your education and the cost to live in the area after graduation. Most colleges and universities in Rhode Island are located in Providence, which has an average cost of living when compared to the rest of New England.

Scholarships for Rhode Island College Students

Rhode Island Foundation

Amounts vary, up to $20,000; the Foundation offers 150 scholarships and requirements vary based on the school and program. Typically, students must be Rhode Island residents seeking to attend college in Rhode Island to be considered.

View Scholarship

Horatio Alger State Rhode Island State Scholarship

Up to $10,000; students must be in dire financial need, have a minimum GPA of 2.0, and have overcome challenges to become successful civic and business leaders in their communities.

View Scholarship

Rhode Island Promise Scholarship

Two years tuition-free; students must be Rhode Island residents who are enrolled full-time at the Community College of Rhode Island or a public four-year university. They must maintain a minimum GPA of 2.5 throughout their studies to maintain their scholarship.

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Rhode Island Nursing Foundation Scholarship

$500 – $1,000; students must study nursing, demonstrate financial need, maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0, and live in Rhode Island.

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Patty and Melvin First Generation Scholarship Fund

$1,000; students must be high school seniors in Rhode Island when applying and must be the first generation in their families to attend college.

View Scholarship

Employment Outlook in Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s unemployment rate matches the unemployment rate in the rest of the U.S., which has been dropping since the height of the recession in 2009. The annual mean wage in Rhode Island is slightly higher than the annual mean wage in the rest of the country, which is encouraging news for recent graduates in the state. Although the largest industries in the state are concentrated in the office and food service fields, the largest employers in Rhode Island all fall under the umbrella of the healthcare industry. If career stability is important to you, then you should considering pursuing a degree in nursing, medicine, or anything related to healthcare.

  Rhode Island United States
Source: BLS and BLS
Unemployment Rate, May 2017 4.3% 4.3%
Annual Mean Wage, May 2016 $44,030 $49,630

Top Employers and Industries in Rhode Island

Top Industries in Rhode Island

  • Office and Administrative Support Occupations: Professionals working in office and administrative support occupations often have jobs that rely heavily on paperwork or accounting, such as office clerk, bookkeeper, and secretary.
  • Food Preparation and Serving Occupations : This discipline consists of the many facets of the foodservice industry, including everything from chefs, restaurant supervisors, waiters, dishwashers, and bartenders.
  • Sales and Related Occupations: Although many people working in sales work in stores, the sales and retail industry is much more far-reaching. For example, the industry also employs insurance agents, brokers, and telemarketers.

Top Employers in Rhode Island

  • Lifespan Health System: 12,050 employees
  • Care New England Health System: 8,500 employees
  • ECVS Health Corp.: 7,800 employees

State Exchange Programs for Rhode Island College Students

State-to-state exchange programs are similar to foreign exchange programs. However, in state exchange programs students enroll in a college in another state rather than a foreign country; Canada and U.S. territories are also options in some exchange programs. These state exchange programs are ideal for those who want to leave Rhode Island or enroll in an online college elsewhere in the country. One nice perk of these exchange programs is that they offer in-state tuition to these out-of-state students.

Accreditation for Colleges in Rhode Island

College accreditation is an important factor to consider when searching for an online school in Rhode Island. Accrediting agencies are responsible for reviewing schools to ensure that they meet minimum standards for academic quality. Earning a degree from an accredited institution proves to employers that you have what it takes to succeed. There are two main types of accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation is considered more prestigious than national accreditation and is typically pursued by public four-year universities. On the other hand, national accreditation is typically pursued by for-profit, trade, or vocational schools. When it comes to regional accreditation, the U.S. is divided into six regions that each have a different accreditation agency. Students in Rhode Island should look for programs at institutions that are accredited by the New England Association of Colleges and Schools.

Resources for Students in Rhode Island

  • Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner: The Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner is the state’s department dedicated to higher education. The commissioner is the state’s executive officer, and the office has several divisions under it. Students curious about how Rhode Island’s public colleges are managed should bookmark the commissioner’s website.
  • Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education: The Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education is a board made up of eight members who oversee three institutions of higher learning: the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and the Community College of Rhode Island. The board lays out the strategic plan and determines the budget for these colleges.
  • Rhode Island Division of Higher Education Assistance: The Rhode Island Division of Higher Education Assistance, previously known as as the Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority, is an important agency for any student looking for financial aid. This division of the state’s government helps students find scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and student loans.
  • Rhode Island Resource Hub: The Rhode Island Resource Hub describes itself as “a comprehensive directory of education and career resources for Rhode Islanders.” The hub not only offers information about Rhode Island colleges and universities, but it also lists information about job training, adult education, and digital literacy training classes. The website also includes an ask-and-answer portal, allowing students to ask questions about online colleges in Rhode Island.
  • Westerly Education Center: The Westerly Education Center is a branch under the Postsecondary Commissioner’s office. This center offers workforce training at public colleges and connects college students with employment opportunities in the state.
  • Rhode Island Promise: The Rhode Island Promise is a scholarship program sponsored by the state that offers students the opportunity to study for two years tuition-free as long as students spend those two years at one of these three public colleges: the Community College of Rhode Island, the University of Rhode Island, or Rhode Island College.
  • Rhode Island Department of Education: The Rhode Island Department of Education mostly deals with K-12 education. However, the department includes some resources on adult education and distance online learning that may be helpful for GED graduates.
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