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

A set of bills in the Michigan Legislature could expand eligibility for a free tuition program to help adults without a college degree pay for community college or skilled trades training.

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

The program, Michigan Reconnect, started last year. This is open to individuals aged 25 and over who wish to obtain an associate’s degree or a skilled trades certificate. The package would temporarily open the program to people between the ages of 21 and 24.

Students accepted into the program receive free or heavily reduced tuition.

Almost 93,000 students have been accepted into the program since its launch in February 2021.

“We want to make sure we’re nimble and responsive to needs based on the pandemic,” Rep. Sarah Anthony said. “The pandemic has hurt employers and their ability to hire and retain people to fill positions. But we also design this in such a way that there is a sunset to reevaluate.

Are people using the reconnect program? Are community colleges serving students and, again, training people to get those degrees and associate degrees to meet the demands of the job market? »

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

According to bills, this would include credits for various exams and tests, military training, industry credentials, workplace learning, portfolio assessment, and other types of credits for prior learning such as as determined by the ministry. Institutions would be eligible for reimbursement at the rate of $20 per credit hour.

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

The proposal would also provide more grant opportunities for short-term vocational training programs. Lasting eight to 15 weeks, the programs “would enable people to earn industry-recognized degrees that are stackable, portable, and shown to increase earnings by at least 20% after graduation. completion,” according to a joint press release from Anthony. and Frederick’s offices.

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

The bills were referred to the House Appropriations Committee for further review.

“We are fighting for additional funding to ensure we can meet the needs of people applying for Reconnect,” Anthony said.

Rep. Frederick, who chairs the House Budget Subcommittee on Community Colleges and Higher Education, earmarked $155 million in federal COVID relief funding to expand Michigan Reconnect in the House budget proposal for the fiscal year which begins on October 1.

Negotiations for the state budget will begin soon and must be adopted by September 30.

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