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Proposed bills could expand free college program to people 21 and older in Michigan

Professor giving a college lecture while students take notes.
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Professor giving a college lecture while students take notes.

A package of bills in the Michigan Legislature could expand eligibility requirements for a free college tuition program for helping adults without college degrees to pay for community college or skilled trades training.

Sponsored by state Reps. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso) and Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), House Bills 6129 and 6130, were first read on the House floor on May 24.

The program, Michigan Reconnect, first started last year. It’s open to people ages 25 and older who want to earn an associate degree or skilled trade certificate. The package would temporarily open the program to people ages 21 to 24.

Students accepted into the program receive free or deeply discounted tuition.

Nearly 93,000 students were accepted into the program since it launched in February 2021.

“We want to be sure that we're being nimble and responding to the needs based on the pandemic,” Rep. Sarah Anthony said. “The pandemic has hurt employers and their ability to hire and retain individuals to fill the jobs. But we also design this so that there would be a sunset for us to reevaluate.

Are individuals using the reconnect program? Are community colleges serving students, and again, training folks in order for them to get these credentials and associate degrees to meet the labor market demands?”

The bills would also incentivize community colleges to give students in the program college credit for their prior learning and life experiences to help students get through their programs faster.

According to the bills, this would include credit for various exams and tests, military training, industry credentials, work-based learning, portfolio assessment, and other types of credit for prior learning as determined by the department. Institutions would be eligible to be reimbursed at a rate of $20 per credit hour.

Community colleges would also be incentivized to adopt competency-based courses and programs.

The proposal would also provide more grant opportunities for short-term career training programs. Ranging in length from eight to 15 weeks, the programs “would allow people to attain industry-recognized credentials that are stackable, portable, and shown to increase earnings by no less than 20 percent after completion,” according to a joint news release from Anthony and Frederick’s offices.

Michigan Reconnect is a part of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s goal to increase Michigan adults with a skill certificate or college degree to 60% by 2030.

The bills were referred to the House Appropriation Committee for further consideration.

“We are fighting for additional money to make sure that we can meet the need of the folks who are applying for Reconnect,” Anthony said.

Rep. Frederick, who chairs the House’s budget subcommittee on community colleges and higher education, dedicated $155 million in federal COVID relief funding to expand Michigan Reconnect in the House’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Negotiations for the state budget will begin soon and must be passed by Sept. 30.

Copyright 2022 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.