(WXMI) — More than a sold-out Ford Field’s worth of people are taking advantage of the state’s new “Reconnect” program and getting free tuition at their local community college.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed off on bipartisan legislation in April 2020 to create the Michigan Reconnect Grant Program, which provides tuition money to adults seeking a post-secondary education.
Michigan residents ages 25 and up, who don’t have a degree already, are eligible to apply for the assistance.
So far, 70,000 people have applied.
“It was a bipartisan effort to get the Reconnect legislation achieved last year,” says Kerry Ebersole Singh of Michigan’s Dept. of Labor and Economic Development.
Ebersole Singh is also the director of Michigan’s Sixty by 30 Alliance, a statewide and Whitmer administration push to ensure 60% of Michiganders have a skill certificate or post-secondary degree by 2030, an 11% increase from where we stand now.
“There are high demand jobs here in the state that we don't have the workforce we need to fill those jobs," Ebersole Singh added. "So it's just like a win-win opportunity, not only for business community, but also as individuals seek to continue their education and fulfill their dreams."
Research shows there’s a big benefit to having some form of post-secondary education.
75% of Michigan jobs require some form of post-secondary education and those with 2 year-degrees on average earn an additional $7500 per year.
A face to the number
Often, it’s the cost of tuition keeping adults from going back to get their degree.
“This was a blessing, believe me” said 61-year-old Muskegon resident Wilson Price.
“I was a machinist and I was working one day and I got injured at work, I lost my eyesight,” Price explained. “Since then, I've been having trouble finding jobs and different things like that.”
Price is just 8 credits short from getting an associate's degree in management, and he hasn't been in a classroom in over a decade.
Now, thanks to the Reconnect program's assistance, he can continue his studies at Muskegon Community College.
“I'm just thankful that I can finally start seeing a light, because I’ve been going through so much these last two years and I can see a light now at the end of the tunnel,” he added.
After getting his degree, Price hopes to work for a local organization that mentors kids.
“It's never too late to get an education. Look at me. I'm 60!” he added.
Early success, future challenges
There are some kinks in the fledgling program that will need to be worked out. Among them, cost of tuition is not the only holding people back.
“Tuition is only one aspect of a person returning to school and pursuing these degrees and certificates.” Ebersole Singh said. “There's other barriers folks face at achieving those degrees. We are working towards helping support these students and other wraparound services.”
Services like money for childcare or SNAP benefits to start.
“At the end of the day, we want to see folks complete these degrees and certificates. And so our job is now transitioning from the logistics of getting a program up and running to making sure we're supporting those individuals to achieve and get across the graduation line,” Ebersole Singh added.
If you are interested in applying to the program, click here.