Nearly 29,000 Residents Apply for Free Community College Tuition in State Program's First Week

Only 41% of Michigan residents age 25 or older have a postsecondary degree, short of the state's long-term goal of 60%.

Only 41% of Michigan residents age 25 or older have a postsecondary degree, short of the state's long-term goal of 60%. Shutterstock

 

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The Michigan Reconnect Program provides residents 25 and older with free community college tuition and scholarships for skilled trades training, part of a larger initiative to increase the number of working-age residents with degrees.

Roughly 29,000 Michigan residents applied for community college tuition assistance in the first four days of a new state-administered program, officials said Monday.

The Michigan Reconnect program, a bipartisan initiative that launched Feb. 2, aims to make community college and skilled trades training affordable for residents without college degrees who are over the age of 25. As many as 4 million residents likely qualify for the program, which is funded via a $30 million appropriation in the state’s budget.

The initiative is part of a larger effort to address a statewide workforce shortage by ensuring that 60% of working-age residents in Michigan have either a skill certificate or a college degree by 2030. As of 2019, just 41% of adults in the state had an associate degree or higher, ranking 31st in the nation, state officials said last week.

“All Michiganders deserve a pathway to a good-paying job, whether they choose to pursue a college degree, technical certificate, or an apprenticeship,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during a virtual press conference last week.  “Michigan Reconnect will connect thousands of Michiganders to good-paying jobs and connect businesses with the talent they need to thrive in their communities.”

The Reconnect program administers scholarships that pay the remainder of participants’ college tuition and fees after other state and federal financial aid payments are applied. The scholarships are accepted by all community colleges in the state, but full scholarships are available only to students who attend the campus in their district. Applicants who decide to enroll at schools outside of their districts will receive tuition discounts. 

The scholarships must be redeemed this year, and most applicants who are accepted should be able to enroll in classes this summer, officials said.

At its launch, the program also offered scholarships of up to $1,500 to help cover the cost of private skilled training programs in specific fields, including manufacturing, construction, business management, information technology and health care. But that option was flooded with applications—more than 1,700 in the first 24 hours—and is now closed.

The program is similar to the Futures for Frontliners initiative, which launched last spring to provide free tuition for workers who were deemed essential during the initial phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 83,000 residents were accepted, and roughly 15,000 enrolled at community colleges, said Erica Quealy, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. Applications for the new initiative “are right on pace with what we anticipated” based on those numbers, she said.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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