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Michigan residents over 25 without degrees can now apply for tuition-free community college, skills training

Michigan residents 25 and older who don’t have a college degree can now apply for funding to cover community college tuition costs or skilled trades training scholarships.

The initiative, known as the Michigan Reconnect program, is being funded initially by a $30 million appropriation in the state budget that had bipartisan backing from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican-majority legislature.

To be eligible, applicants must least 25 years old, a Michigan resident for at least a year and have a high school diploma, but not a college degree. Scholarships funded by Michigan Reconnect will be accepted by all Michigan community colleges, although applicants who want to attend a community college outside of their district will only be covered for the in-district portion of their tuition.

The program pays the balance of tuition and mandatory fees after any other state and federal financial aid the applicant is eligible for is applied. The initiative also covers scholarships to private training schools for certificates in high-demand careers like manufacturing, construction, information technology, healthcare and business management.

It’s unclear exactly how many people will take the state up on the offer, although state officials estimate more than 4.1 million Michigan residents could be eligible.

“All Michiganders deserve a pathway to a good-paying job, whether they choose to pursue a college degree, technical certificate, or an apprenticeship,” Whitmer said during a virtual news briefing Tuesday. “Michigan Reconnect will connect thousands of Michiganders to good-paying jobs and connect businesses with the talent they need to thrive in their communities.”

Whitmer initially pitched the program shortly after taking office. The idea earned support from lawmakers like Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, who said Michigan Reconnect will help fill gaps in the state’s workforce that are expected to widen as more workers retire.

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“Even if Michigan were able to keep every high school student, every college graduate, it wouldn’t be enough to fill out the state’s talent gap,” Horn said. “Our aim with Michigan Reconnect is to meet our state’s need by making it possible and affordable for working-age Michiganders to earn a degree or certificate.”

Previously, the state offered a similar option for frontline workers through the Futures for Frontliners program, which was open to workers without an associate or bachelor’s degree who were deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 120,000 residents applied to that program, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Acting Director Susan Corbin said, adding that 30,000 of those applicants who didn’t qualify as a frontline worker will automatically be made eligible for Michigan Reconnect.

25-year-old Lansing resident Shabaka Bailey said during the news conference he planned to apply to Michigan Reconnect to enroll in Lansing Community College’s aviation program. Bailey, who said he’s been laid off from work twice during the pandemic, said he’d considered community college before, but couldn’t afford to cover both his tuition and supporting his children.

“The Michigan Reconnect program is a great opportunity for me to pursue my dream now…and allow me to make something of myself,” he said.

Eligible Michigan residents can visit the Michigan Reconnect website for more information and to apply.

Related coverage:

Michigan front-line workers eligible for tuition-free community college under state program

Thousands of essential workers to attend GRCC for free through Futures for Frontliners program

Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College partner in Futures for Frontliners program

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