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Whitmer’s College Scholarship Proposals Now In Bill Form

April 23, 2019

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plans to connect older students and new high school graduates to two-year higher education scholarships were unveiled Thursday morning amid bipartisan, business and union support at Lansing Community College.

Legislation introduced allows those 25 and older and graduating high school seniors to take two years of community college or receive an industry-recognized certificate for free if they earn good grades and don’t drag out the process.

Also, graduating high schoolers with a 3.0 GPA from a family making $80,000 a year or less can earn a combined $5,000 in scholarship for their first two years of schooling at a four-year college or university.

The two programs — Michigan Reconnect and MI Opportunity — were first mentioned in Whitmer’s first State of the State address and are part of her goal that 60% of Michiganders have some form of post-secondary education credential by 2030. The current level is 44%.

If implemented in FY 2021 the programs are estimated to cost $245 million. Outside of the money coming out of the General Fund, a funding stream for the programs wasn’t identified.

“If we’re going to attract talent investment in Michigan, we need to make sure our people have the skills to do the jobs,” Whitmer said during Thursday’s press conference.

Among those present were the bills’ sponsors — Rep. Sheryl Kennedy (D-Davison), Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso), Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) and Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth).

“Every student in Michigan has the right to a world-class education, no matter the path their journey takes them on,” Kennedy said. “This legislation will encourage more young people to take the next step to stackable credentials and a livable wage and renew our commitment to unlocking the potential of every Michigan student.”

The Republicans are sponsoring the Michigan Reconnect program through HB 4456 and SB 0268. The $53 million program that takes care of the costs of those 25 and older looking to get a community college degree or industry certificate in a “high-demand field.”

Frederick and Horn both talked about how they were non-traditional learners and appreciate the thrust of this proposed program.

The Democrats are sponsoring the MI Opportunity program through HB 4464 and SB 0267. The bills have a community college and four-year degree component. To qualify for a free community college scholarship, a student must complete a degree in three years and take 20 credits each school year.

A student can only stop completion due to a family or health emergency. Earlier estimates have this costing $46 million in year one and $77 million after that.

The two $2,500 scholarships a graduating high school student with a 3.0 average can obtain is expected to cost $113 million a year when it’s all said and done. 

Among those with speaking roles at Thursday’s press conference were Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Rich Studley, Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley, Julie Rowe of AFT-Michigan and Michigan Education Association Vice President Chandra Madafferi.

Studley mentioned that the Tennessee Chamber worked with the governor and legislature on a similar program.

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