LANSING — Michigan on Tuesday began accepting applications for tuition-free assistance from adults 25 and older to earn an associate degree or postsecondary certificate at a community college or private training school.
The Michigan Reconnect program is being supported with an initial $30 million in state funding, enough to cover approximately 30,000 people. Applicants must be at least 25, have lived in the state a year or more, have a high school diploma or equivalent and not have an associate or bachelor’s degree.
More than 4.1 million, or 41%, of residents, may be eligible. Starting this summer, the aid will cover all tuition or mandatory fees not already offset by need-based federal Pell Grants or Michigan’s tuition program for Medicaid recipients.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who wants 60% of working-age people to have a college degree or skill certificate by 2030, proposed the program after taking office two years ago. Funding was secured in the current budget that she and the Republican-led Legislature enacted in the fall.
“It’s critical that we help Michiganders without a postsecondary education get on a path toward a good-paying job,” Whitmer said in a virtual news conference, saying 545,000 jobs in the trades will open through 2026.
Reconnect is the second tuition-assistance program to start in nearly five months. Future for Frontliners, which the governor is funding with $24 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, covers community college tuition for health care workers and others who had to work outside their homes in the early months of the pandemic. Of the 120,000-plus people who applied by the Dec. 31 deadline, more than 83,000 were eligible.
Shabaka Bailey, a 25-year-old unemployed father of two from Lansing, said when he first heard of the Reconnect program from a career coach at a local workforce development agency, he “thought it was almost too good to be true.” He said he was laid off twice due to the pandemic and cannot afford to attend Lansing Community College. Free tuition would be a “great opportunity for me to pursue my dream now,” he said, saying he wants to become an aviation technician.
Asked if the Reconnect funding could be depleted quickly, lawmakers said they intend to push for additional funds in the next fiscal year and beyond.
“This will take high priority. We needed to get our toe in the water … to get this off the ground,” said Republican Sen. Ken Horn of Frankenmuth.
“We know that it’s going to take the will of the Legislature and a partnership with our governor to continue to prioritize postsecondary education and training,” said Democratic Rep. Sarah Anthony of Lansing. “It can actually put folks on a path to prosperity.”