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Michigan Doubles Down on Free Community College

Building on the success of a $140 million investment, Michigan is making community college free to hundreds of thousands more students by expanding the Michigan Reconnect program.

The state is trying to address a shortage of qualified workers, by providing classes to people who otherwise cannot afford them. Michigan Reconnect offers tuition-free community college to adults with no postsecondary education.

The state has invested another $70 million, and dropped the age to qualify from 25 to 21, which could help another 350,000 people.

Jon Calderwood, executive director of enrollment management at Mott Community College in Flint, said it will ultimately make Michigan more competitive in key employment areas.

"Especially things like as we're trying to become competitive for artificial intelligence, electronic vehicle manufacturing, things like that," Calderwood outlined. "This is going to definitely help the state in creating that skilled workforce. So, kind of improve a standard of living."

Michigan Reconnect has helped more than 123,000 students attend college since its inception in 2021. Calderwood called it a game changer by creating a tuition-free pathway to an associate degree at any one of Michigan's 31 community and tribal colleges.

The state's Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity reports about 27,000 people have enrolled in college, and at least 2,800 have earned a degree or certificate since Michigan Reconnect's inception.

Calderwood predicted the additional funding will be just as successful, because it removes the biggest obstacle for many who want to attend college but cannot afford to.

"It's going to take away that hurdle," Calderwood pointed out. "It's going to take away probably some of the top fears we've run into over the years of 'how do I pay for school?' So, this program, by removing that, the goal is to increase that pipeline and take away that burden."

Michigan joins a handful of other states offering free community college to help train more workers as the cost of traditional four-year universities continues to skyrocket.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

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