Students attending Grand Rapids Community College through the Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners programs are eligible for additional assistance from the state government to help overcome financial obstacles to starting or restarting their education.
The Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners cover the cost of in-district tuition. Lawmakers this year approved an additional $6 million for help pay for other expenses, such as daycare or transportation.
Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II at GRCC on Thursday touted the bipartisan Fiscal Year 2023 budget’s inclusion of $55 million for the Michigan Reconnect program, calling it an affirmation of the program’s ongoing success in easing the path for working-age adults to earn a college degree or certificate.
“The groundbreaking Michigan Reconnect program is fully funded for next year and that is reason enough to celebrate on behalf of the tens of thousands of hardworking people taking the first step toward earning a college degree or certificate,” Gilchrist said. “But there is more to applaud. We’ve added another $6 million in new grants to reduce educational barriers and we’ve hit a milestone this month with more than 100,000 people accepted into the program.”
Gilchrist, speaking at the new computer lab in the Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center, added, “By working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, we hit a trifecta in our work to put adult learners in Michigan on the path to a brighter future and to provide employers with the highly skilled workers they need to keep and grow their businesses throughout the state.”
The Michigan Reconnect program, launched in Feb. 2021, is aimed at students 25 and older who have not yet earned a degree. Frontliners was available in 2020 for residents who worked in essential fields during the state’s COVID-19 shutdown.
Gilchrist was joined by Sarah Szurpicki, director of the state’s Office of Sixty by 30, part of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity; GRCC Interim President Juan R. Olivarez; Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Director of Government Affairs Nate Henschel; Eula Gaddis, the director of Quality at Jireh Metal Products in Grandville; and Michigan Reconnect student Morgan Brink.
Olivarez said 22 percent of GRCC students were using the state programs last academic year. The number of GRCC students age 30 and older was 14 percent above pre-pandemic levels, with the state programs a significant factor. The college has enrolled 1,100 Reconnectors and 1,004 Futures for Frontliners students for the upcoming fall semester so far.
“We are proud of our success as a Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners partner as we strive to attract, train and graduate students for the high-paying and high-demand jobs that will drive Michigan’s, and our region’s, economic future,” Olivarez said.
A married mother of two, Brink said she and her young family understand the value of the Reconnect program.
At 32, Brink never thought college was in the picture for her until the COVID pandemic forced her to take another look. Realizing that college was the path to a more secure future and an opportunity to demonstrate to her children the power of education, she decided to enroll through Reconnect.
“Honestly, I barely graduated from high school,” Brink said. “Now, my daughter sees me studying and going to school and now she’s already talking about going to college. That’s the power of the Michigan Reconnect program – it’s for college degrees now and for our children later.”
Gilchrist said the $6 million in grant funding is aimed at helping defray other costs that often keep adult learners returning to college or enrolling for the first time through the Michigan Reconnect or Futures for Frontliners programs.
The new grants, which will be distributed by the state’s community and tribal colleges, can be used for books, childcare, internet access and transportation to help students pursue associate degrees or skills certificates.
GRCC and other eligible institutions can distribute the allocated funds directly to eligible students who have completed at least one semester – with as much as $550 available per student per academic year.
GRCC will have about $500,000 to distribute to students.
To be eligible for the grants, students must:
- Be Michigan Reconnect or Futures for Frontliners scholarship participants.
- Have completed at least one semester within the respective scholarship program they are participating in.
- Be enrolled already or be in the process of enrolling for a following qualifying semester.
The wraparound grants build on Michigan’s network of people and resources in place to provide students with the critical support they need to successfully enroll in classes and complete a skill certificate or associate degree program.
To help Reconnect students succeed with the steps leading up to enrolling with a community college, the state’s Reconnect Navigators are available to help applicants complete admissions and financial aid requirements, set career goals, identify relevant educational opportunities and create a plan to graduate. Navigators, who reach out to students after they have been accepted into the Reconnect scholarship, will also connect students to additional programs and assistance offered by their community college and local partners to remove barriers to education.
Since Michigan Reconnect launched, over 100,000 Michiganders have been accepted into the scholarship program and nearly 18,000 have enrolled in a community college, helping to drive success toward Gov. Whitmer’s Sixty by 30 goal of having 60% of Michiganders with a postsecondary degree or skills certificate by 2030. In Kent County alone, there have been approximately 6,500 Reconnect applicants.