GRAND RAPIDS — A statewide coalition of community colleges, including Grand Rapids Community College, is vying for federal grant dollars that would provide free tuition for students in key advanced manufacturing programs.
The Michigan Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing (MCAM) is in the application process for a $6 million American Promise Grant, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. If successful, the grant would provide more than 1,000 students in the state with free tuition.
For college administrators, the new funding continues the momentum MCAM has gained since it was established in 2012 and furthers efforts to support manufacturers with access to much-needed talent.
“It’s nice to have that underbelly of this grant proposal that keeps these teams meeting and talking for another four years,” said Steven Ender, president of GRCC. “When you have a lot of people without a common directive, things can go in many different directions, but this really points in the same direction and will help keep us on track.”
If approved, GRCC would receive approximately $800,000 of the $6 million grant, which in turn would financially support 138 students through the MCAM program, Ender said. MCAM includes career programs in welding, machining, mechatronics and manufacturing production at GRCC.
Grant proposals are due on Aug. 25 and will be awarded to between 20 and 40 institutions by Oct. 1.
Aside from GRCC, MCAM includes Kellogg Community College, Lake Michigan College, Mott Community College, Schoolcraft College, Lansing Community College, Bay College and Macomb Community College.
Macomb Community College is heading up the American Promise Grant initiative on behalf of the consortium.
GRCC has partnered with several West Michigan manufacturers, including Kentwood-based automotive supplier Autocam Corp., to collaborate on curriculum and on attracting new workers to its advanced manufacturing program.
For Autocam, working with GRCC allows the company to expand its recruitment efforts deeper into communities that it doesn’t have the resources to access on its own, said Steve Heethuis, a training director at the manufacturer.
Moreover, it also allows Autocam to prepare for the 2022 time frame when the company forecasts its need for labor will grow rapidly.
“We’re all competing for the same talent, and for us to utilize programing that GRCC has already vetted, we can take their students and implement them in various roles here and continue their journey toward what they’d like to be doing professionally,” Heethuis said. “This grant allows us to create a broader talent pool we can bring to that talent program.”
Autocam has hired 20 people over the last three years who have either directly graduated or benefited from training through classes offered at MCAM programs, Heethuis said.
The upcoming American Prosperity Grant is not the first time MCAM has collaborated on grant funding. The group formed in 2012 to write a grant for nearly $25 million from the Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program, which it won in 2013.
GRCC received more than $4 million of that funding and has since used the majority of the dollars to purchase equipment, update curriculum and expand recruitment efforts.
The MCAM collaboration is unique in that all eight of the participating community colleges share a common curriculum among the program’s four tracks, meaning students involved in one of the programs could transfer to another college and not lose credits, Ender said.
“What we have created are program tracks that are all grounded in industry credentials and not just what an individual faculty member thinks is the best thing for us to do,” Ender said. “That was a huge breakthrough. … All of a sudden we were speaking the same language about the skills that are needed in the workplace.”
So far, GRCC has recruited 587 students to the program over the last four years, 303 of whom have completed it, according to Ender. Another 270 students are still enrolled in the program.
Graduates of the program have an 86-percent job placement rate and the majority of students have seen some level of wage increase.
“It’s a huge step forward for the state of Michigan around workforce development,” Ender said.