State fuels education attainment program with grant funding

Michigan Reconnect’s goal is 60% of residents with certifications or degrees within 10 years.
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GRCC Graduation
Nontraditional students such as Lori Eastman, who graduated from GRCC in 2018, are the type of people who can benefit most from Michigan Reconnect. Courtesy Grand Rapids Community College Communications

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is one step closer to a goal she laid out for Michigan last year.

In her 2019 State of the State address, Whitmer put forth a goal of increasing the number of Michigan residents with postsecondary certifications or degrees to 60% by 2030 through Michigan Reconnect and other options, which aims to “provide tuition-free pathway to an in-demand industry certificate or associate degree for residents aged 25 and older.”

Earlier this month, Whitmer signed the legislation to create the Michigan Reconnect Grant Program.

“The bipartisan Michigan Reconnect program will connect thousands of Michiganders to good-paying jobs and connect businesses with the talent they need to thrive in their communities,” she said. “I’m proud of the hard work that has gone into this bill package and look forward to continue working with the legislature to reach our goal of 60% of Michiganders with a postsecondary degree by 2030.”

Now that the legislation is signed, the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity is responsible for establishing Michigan Reconnect, which will provide grants and scholarships to adults seeking a postsecondary education. There also is a last-payer scholarship program established for eligible students to attain a Pell-eligible associate degree or industry-recognized certificate or credential.

Changes were made to the School Aid Act to revise the distribution of funds under the tuition incentive program. There also are exceptions to the general requirement that institutions must ensure all known available restricted grants for tuition and fees are used prior to billing the Tuition Incentive Program.

Before the governor rolled out her plan for Michigan Reconnect in January of last year, presidents from community colleges across the state had the opportunity to meet with the governor and legislators to share ideas and have input in refining and crafting the bills that will create the program.

One of those community college leaders was Bill Pink, president of Grand Rapids Community College.

“The governor and her staff have been very good at having an ear to our community colleges across the state in terms of helping to refine and better shape this bill,” he said. “I have had several conversations with our local legislators about various things to do with the bill. So, between the governor presenting it and the legislators vetting it, we’ve had some really good opportunities to have a voice at those tables and that has been helpful.”

Pink said he really liked seeing the specific credentials students could pursue such as certificates and associate degrees. Twenty-seven percent of GRCC student body members who are degree-seeking students are 25 or older. For the non-credit workforce training programs, the number is much higher, with almost 60% being 25 or older.

In addition to earning a certificate or associate degree, GRCC partners with universities, which makes it easier for students to transfer to four-year schools. Some of those partners include Grand Valley State University, Western Michigan University, Ferris State University and Davenport University.

“I believe community colleges will play a strong role and a significant role in this Michigan Reconnect Grant Program,” Pink said. “As community colleges, we have the history of our education and training process that I think gives us the accountability to not only be the choice entity to vet that education, but also to be the primary deliverer of that education and, I believe, from what I have seen, our governor and legislators hear that in regards to the important and significant roles community colleges can play in making sure that these opportunities for our Michiganders truly happen in an education setting.”

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