Facing massive budget cuts, Michigan launches $30 million 'free' college program

Amid massive cuts to the state's budget, Michigan launched a new $30 million "free" tuition program.

The program aims to ensure that at least 60 percent of the state's workforce has a skills certificate or college degree by 2030.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bill 268 and House Bills 5576 & 5580, establishing a grant for individuals who are over the age of 25 and want to pursue post-secondary education. 

The program is now accepting applications for tuition-free financial assistance. 

The new program comes as the state implemented massive budget cuts in 2020 to shore up a 26 percent decline in revenues, leading to a budget deficit of $2.2 billion as of August, NPR reported. To make ends meet, the state was forced to draw $350 million out of its $1.2 billion rainy day fund as well as most of the $3 billion it received in federal coronavirus aid. 

Despite the state’s economic woes, however, Whitmer’s office announced the Michigan Reconnect Grant Recipient Act on Feb. 2. 

The application was opened the same day with an initial $30 million in state funding.

The Michigan Reconnect website states that “these programs and initiatives support Michigan’s goal to increase the number of working-age adults with a skill certificate or college degree from 45% today to 60% by 2030.”

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According to HB 5576 an individual must meet conditions specified in the legislation, including being 25 or older and a resident of the state, maintaining continuous enrollment as at least a half-time student, maintaining a grade point average of 2.0 or above, “participating in relevant academic and career advising programs offered by the eligible institution, and timely filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid for each academic year.”

The statement from Whitmer explains that the program will pay the cost of tuition for local community colleges for those who meet the requirements and wish to pursue an associate’s degree. The program also offers scholarships for pursuing skills certificates at private training schools in programs relating to hard labor industries such as manufacturing and construction. 

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State estimates say that more than 4.1 million Michiganders do not have college degrees and could be eligible for the program. 

Whitmer launched the Futures for Frontliners initiative in September 2020. She stated that about 20,000 of the 120,000 applicants did not qualify but would qualify for the Michigan Reconnect grant.

The Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity and the Michigan Department of Treasury have been tasked with facilitating the Reconnect grants, with the goal of providing more economic opportunities. 

Section 17 of HB 5576 states that “regardless of which community college district that a Michigan reconnect grant student resides in, if any, the amount of a Michigan reconnect grant must not exceed the cost of tuition at the in-district resident rate and mandatory fees at the eligible institution attended less all gift aid. Gift aid must be credited first to the student’s tuition and mandatory fees. If awarded, Michigan reconnect grant money must be paid to the eligible institution for credit to the student’s account.”

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