March 15, 2021 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – More than 800 people have already been approved to attend Grand Rapids Community College through the Michigan Reconnect program, a tuition-free pathway to a life-changing college degree or certificate.
GRCC President Bill Pink joined state and West Michigan legislative, education and economic development leaders participating in a virtual event today to share how residents ages 25 and older without a degree can take advantage of the program.
“With 47,000 applications statewide – including 8,000 in West Michigan – we’ve seen an overwhelmingly positive response in the six weeks since Reconnect opened,” said Susan Corbin, acting director for the state Department of Labor and Opportunity. “But we can’t stop there. We all need to do our part by encouraging any adult without a degree to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Pink said the state scholarship is ideal for people who needed to put their education on hold, especially during the pandemic, or who were unable to start. An associate degree or career-focused certificate can help students move ahead in their work or gain new jobs.
The scholarship removes financial obstacles, and the college is committed to helping students clear other hurdles.
“No one should feel they are taking these steps alone,” Pink said. “We are a partner in our students’ success. That’s why we are committed to helping Reconnecters with support services and a class schedule that allows them to work around job and family responsibilities.”
State Sen. Sean McCann of Kalamazoo said he was proud to join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in approving $30 million in state funding to launch the program this year. Given the economic challenges caused by the pandemic, additional education and training are more important than ever, he said.
“If you’ve always wanted to go to college or return to finish a degree, now may be the right time to make that dream become a reality,” McCann said.
Michigan Reconnect is the largest effort in state history to make it easier and more affordable for residents 25 or older without a college degree – nearly 1 million in West Michigan – to earn a tuition-free associate degree or skills certificate at their in-district community college or private training school.
More than 2,500 Kent County residents have applied for the scholarships so far, 752 in Ottawa County, 252 in Allegan County and 116 in Barry County.
Reconnect scholarships are accepted by all Michigan community colleges and are also available to eligible adults already enrolled in their local community college. The program pays the remaining balance of tuition and mandatory fees after other state and federal financial aid have been applied. For those who choose to attend an out-of-district community college, Reconnect will pay the in-district portion of tuition.
Community colleges across West and central Michigan have already accepted thousands of “Reconnecters” for classes beginning this summer.
Battle Creek native Victoria Ramon-Fox, 25, was recently accepted into Reconnect and is ready to start summer classes at Kellogg Community College. Although the mother of two loves her full-time job helping English-language learners in Battle Creek, she says a college degree allows a future without limitations.
“The best way to help my family and my community is to lead by example and not sell myself short,” Ramon-Fox said.
Many Michigan employers are struggling to find highly skilled employees. Only 38 percent of West Michigan residents 25 or older have an associate degree or higher, according to state Bureau of Labor and Market Information and Strategic Initiatives data.
Many of the 530,000 job openings projected in Michigan through 2028 are in highly skilled, high-wage fields such as information technology, computer science, manufacturing, healthcare and professional trades.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she believes Reconnect will help close the state’s widening talent gap and improve the overall quality of life for Michigan families. The program is included in her recommended budget for fiscal year 2022 with a proposed quadrupling of funding with a one-time $120 million appropriation.
Michigan Reconnect builds on the success of the Futures for Frontliners initiative Whitmer launched last September and to which more than 120,000 essential frontline workers submitted applications for tuition-free college or high school completion.
Organizations from all sectors of the state’s economy have pledged to promote awareness of the program as Reconnect Champions, including Greater Muskegon Economic Development.
“Our state’s recovery and growth depend upon a smarter, stronger workforce,” said Jim Edmonson, the organization’s president and CEO. “Now is the perfect moment in time for Michiganders to take the next step in their education, whether it’s an associate degree or skills certificate.”
To be eligible for Michigan Reconnect, you must be at least 25 when you apply, have lived in the state for a year or more, have a high school diploma and not yet completed a college degree (associate or bachelor’s).
Additional information is available on the state website at michigan.gov/Reconnect. GRCC has created personalized ways to connect with people interested in the Reconnect program, with specialists available via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, phone at (616) 234-3366 and by text at (616) 504-6178. Additional information is available at grcc.edu/reconnect.