GRAND RAPIDS — Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist announced today in Grand Rapids that an additional $6 million in grant funding will be available to qualifying students in the Michigan Reconnect program to cover unexpected costs to help students complete their education.
Gilchrist and other state officials discussed the additional funding Thursday during a press conference at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC). The $6 million is on top of the $55 million that was included in the state’s 2023 fiscal year budget for the Michigan Reconnect program.
Launched in February 2021 and overseen by the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, the Reconnect program provides free or reduced community college tuition or trade certification training for students 25 or older who have not yet earned a degree.
“At Grand Rapids Community College, 22 percent of our students were taking advantage of both the Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners program, and the number of students age 30 and over was up 14 percent,” said GRCC President Juan Olivarez. “That’s up from pre-pandemic levels and we believe the state funds certainly played a significant role in that increase.”
The Futures for Frontliners program is also overseen by LEO and covers tuition costs for Michigan residents who worked in jobs that were considered essential during the COVID-19 shutdown. The enrollment period for new students for the program closed in December 2020.
There are 1,100 students enrolled at GRCC for fall 2022 through Michigan Reconnect, and 1,004 students enrolled through the Futures for Frontliners program, officials said today.
Morgan Brink is among the Reconnect students enrolled at GRCC and is on track to graduate in the spring. Brink and her husband lost their jobs during the pandemic and looked at new opportunities to support their two children, which led to Brink enrolling through the Reconnect program, she said at today’s press conference.
“Like a lot of people, I had to reinvent myself,” Brink said. “I didn’t really think college was an option because of the cost and as a mom you don’t really want to take resources away from your kids or put a financial burden on your family. I heard about the program on the news one day and decided to push myself and go back to school.”
Going back to school has also changed the way her children see her as she studies for her clases, Brink added.
“We are so proud of our students who have taken advantage of this,” Olivarez said. “The program has created a fantastic opportunity for so many residents right here in our county, especially for those who are 25 and older. They can start and restart their education, which is the great thing about this program. Covering the cost of tuition for these students really puts a life changing education within reach for them and it’s so important for our state.”
The Reconnect program is helping Michigan make progress in its “60 by 30” goal, Gilchrist said during the press conference. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer set the goal for 60 percent of Michigan adults to have a degree or professional certification of some kind by 2030. The state has improved from 45 percent of the state’s adult population with those education levels to 49 percent since Whitmer first announced the goal, Gilchrist said.
“We know that post-high school, post-secondary educational experience and training are critical to not only the individuals that experience (that), but they are critical to the future of Michigan’s communities and our economy,” Gilchrist said. “They open the door to high skill, well-paying jobs, better jobs for more Michigan people and therefore better economic opportunities available to more Michigan families.”
As well, the $6 million in additional funding may help students with other obstacles they encounter while trying to finish their education, Gilchrist said. The funding is meant to be flexible and give community colleges discretion in how they award the funds. The state will funnel the funding to community and tribal colleges, with the requirement that students must be in the Reconnect or Futures for Frontliners programs, completed at least one semester within the program and are enrolled already or in the process of enrolling for a following semester.
“You may need a little bit of help to get through, money to buy the books that you need for these classes, or whatever it may be,” Gilchirst said. “These wraparound services are about completion, are about finishing what you started.”
Funding could also be used for child care or transportation expenses, Michigan LEO’s Office of Sixty by 30 Director Sarah Szurpicki said. State officials are working with community colleges on the $6 million in funding, and hope that grants will be available for students to apply for in the fall, Szurpicki said.
“It’s a great opportunity for every school to have that flexibility,” Olivarez said. “We know our students best and we can determine whether or not they really need the funding. Many times we don’t have that kind of flexibility at the local level, it’s very much dictated from above.”