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SMC Participating in Michigan Reconnect Free-Tuition Effort

Published on February 3, 2021 - 3 p.m.

Southwestern Michigan College will be participating in the Michigan Reconnect program announced by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with Republican and Democratic legislators on Feb. 2 — the largest effort in state history to ensure that more than 4.1 million Michiganders 25 or older who lack a college degree have an opportunity to earn a tuition-free associate degree or skills certificate.

Michigan Reconnect will pay the cost of tuition for eligible adults who want to pursue an associate degree or skills certificate at their in-district community college, including SMC. Michiganders can submit applications at Michigan.gov/Reconnect. The application takes less than five minutes to complete and can be done on a mobile device. Interested adults can then immediately apply for SMC admission at www.swmich.edu/admissions/apply/.

To be eligible you must:

  • Be at least 25 years old when you apply
  • Have lived in Michigan for a year or more
  • Have a high school diploma
  • Have not yet completed a college degree (associate or bachelor’s)

Reconnect scholarships are available to eligible adults who are 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.

“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 conference. “Michigan Reconnect will connect thousands of Michiganders  to good-paying jobs and connect businesses with the talent they need to thrive in their communities. I look forward to continuing bipartisan work with lawmakers toward our goal of ensuring 60 percent of Michiganders have a postsecondary degree by 2030.”

Michigan employers’ ability to find highly skilled and capable employees is cited as a top concern in the most recent Michigan Future Business Index Report. Michigan Reconnect will help address the dual challenges of the state’s widening talent gap and aging workforce.

As of 2019, 41 percent of Michigan’s working-age residents had an associate degree or higher, ranking Michigan 31st in the nation. The average age of Michigan’s 365,232 residents enrolled at a community college is 25.7 years old. More than 36 percent are 25 or older, according to the Michigan Community College Association.

“Even if Michigan was able to keep every high school and college graduate, it wouldn’t be enough to fill our state’s talent gap,” Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, said. “Our aim with Michigan Reconnect is to meet our state’s workforce need by encouraging and assisting residents to afford and achieve a college credential or advanced certificate. Now our state has a tool to reach out to adults wanting to pursue postsecondary education.”

Michiganders without a college degree or training credential often face economic challenges. A 2020 analysis by the American Association of Community Colleges reports the median earnings of fulltime employees with a high school degree is $40,510 annually. Those with associate degrees make $50,079 per year, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

“Michigan Reconnect is a win for Michiganders across our entire state,” Rep. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing, said. “When adults earn degrees and gain new skills, they have the ability to advance in the workplace, earn higher wages and fulfill lifetime dreams.”

Several organizations from all sectors of the state’s economy pledge to work as Reconnect Champions to promote awareness of the program, including the Michigan Manufacturers Association (MMA).

“By helping workers get the training they need to thrive, businesses will have the much-needed skilled talent required to succeed,” MMA President and CEO John Walsh said. “Michigan Reconnect helps businesses across the state increase the size and quality of our workforce and serves as an incredible asset for economic mobility.”

Individuals seeking to take advantage of Reconnect but are unsure what they’d like to study are encouraged to consider Michigan’s high-demand careers.

The program builds on the success of the Futures for Frontliners initiative Whitmer launched last September. More than 120,000 Michiganders submitted applications by the Dec. 31 deadline.

The nation’s first program of its kind, Futures for Frontliners offered tuition-free college to Michiganders who provided essential front-line services during COVID-19 Stay Home, Stay Safe orders between April and June 2020.

Approximately 20,000 Michiganders who applied but didn’t qualify for Futures for Frontliners and are 25 or older will automatically be eligible for tuition-free college assistance through Michigan Reconnect.

SMC, with campuses in Dowagiac and Niles, offers day, evening and online courses and support services to meet the needs of adults to manage work and family while earning a degree. SMC helps students get started in nearly any high-wage, high-demand career. Students interested in continuing their education beyond the tuition-free associate degree offered by Michigan Reconnect can then choose to complete a four-year degree on the Dowagiac campus through a Ferris State University partnership or transfer to other universities.

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