Reconnecting our community with a degree

Michigan Reconnect offers students chance to attend community college tuition free

There are many college hopefuls every year who start out in August with optimism and promise, but then after a semester or two of course work, rising costs of education and living, time away from family and work, many students have to walk away from their college aspirations.

Many feel their break will be a short one, but year after year passes and they haven’t been able to return. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has sought to resolve at least one of the major obstacles to getting a college education; the rising cost of tuition and the looming fear of student debt. With bipartisan support, the Michigan Legislature and governor recognized the need and benefit of having an educated workforce. 

With Michigan Reconnect students above the age of 25 will be able to attend their local community college tuition free. This is an enormous effort to have 60% of Michigan adults have a college degree by 2030. With only 41% of Michigan’s working age residents having an Associate’s degree or higher, this plan is certainly ambitious. 

The program is open to those who are 25, have lived in Michigan for over a year, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and have not completed a college degree (Associate or Bachelor’s). The program will cover the cost of tuition after all other scholarships and grants have been utilized, and is available to students seeking a college outside their district. Out-of-district students will need to cover the difference of the in-district fees, but this does provide options for those who seek a program outside their area. 

With Michigan’s Future for Front Liners scholarship program and Michigan Reconnect, Glen Oaks Community College anticipates students in St. Joseph County will have the opportunity to get back to school. Students of the Future for Front Liners program will be rolled into the Michigan Reconnect program, and with 147 applicants in the first year of Future for Front Liners to Glen Oaks alone, the potential to enrich our community with a well educated workforce is definitely a positive. Students of the program will start in the fall of this year. Currently the Front Liners program has 66 students awarded funds to attend Glen Oaks amounting to over $98,000. 

According to Census data, St. Joseph County only has 16.2% of adults (25 or older) with a Bachelor’s degree or higher, highlighting a definite need for Michigan Reconnect in this area. While 87% of adults in the county have a high school diploma there is still a large gap between the number of high school graduates and college graduates.

The Future for Front Liners and Michigan Reconnect can be a boon for our community as many will qualify for these programs. With 69.4% of jobs in this county on the front lines, this is a significant opportunity for many in our community to get that college education they have been wanting, but unable to grasp. Higher education has been linked to higher wage earning potential, better opportunities for advancement, and an edge on potential job interviews. 

Many in education see this as a hugely positive move but do understand that tuition isn’t the only obstacle to accessing a college education. Many students leave college due to family needs, living expenses, daycare, or simply lack of support. Michigan Reconnect is a huge step forward to opening opportunity for many to start or finish that college degree they’ve been dreaming about. 

The State of Michigan offers tools to help resolve issues of childcare through their Great Start to Quality site. As well as medical and food assistance through Mi Bridges. These programs can help students through the other obstacles that may arise from tackling a college education. 

Colleges have been discussing ways to remove barriers to success for years. This is just one large piece of the puzzle to higher education. In our area Glen Oaks Community College has been tackling these potential obstacles head on with developing initiatives that will help support adult students. One new development has been the creation of an adult mentoring program that acts like a support system for adult students. This mentoring program will have students assisting each other in adjusting to the online environment. Allowing them to feel comfortable asking questions and connection with their classmates. 

There is no question that we hope for an educated community and workforce, but now there are actual resources behind it. The bipartisan support for this enormous task is a step in the right direction. Next August might see even more hopefuls tackle college head on with the support they need to achieve their dream. 

Amanda Yearling is a librarian and writer who has made Three Rivers her home.