LANSING, Mich. — In what will be her sixth State of the State address, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is planning to urge state lawmakers to pass legislation that would provide free community college tuition for all high school graduates.
This was a theme in annual address last year in which she also prioritized community college access. In response, State lawmakers temporarily lowered the minimum age for free tuition from 25 to 21 years old. Currently, the Democratic governor is seeking to expand the program by removing age requirements for free community college, according to her office.
Whitmer’s administration did create the Michigan Reconnect program in 2021, with an aim of increasing the percentage of the state’s workforce with a postsecondary degree or training from 50.5% to 60% by 2030. Through this program, Michigan residents 25 years and older became eligible for free community college tuition.
As of August, 27,000 residents had enrolled in the program since its launch and at least 2,800 have earned a degree or certificate.
Lowering the program’s minimum age to 21 last year provided accessibility to 350,000 more residents without college degrees, and 8,500 residents have correspondingly signed up, according to the governor’s office. That temporary change, however, is only in place through this fall’s semester, when it is set to return to 25 unless lawmakers approve Whitmer’s proposal.
Eligible students, under Whitmer’s proposal, will have lived in Michigan for the year prior to enrollment, will have earned a high school diploma and must not have previously completed a college degree. Under the proposal, students would have up to three years to obtain their associate’s degree.
Statistically, community college enrollment in Michigan has been on the decline. It is reported that Michigan community colleges registered a 2.8% drop in enrollment last spring in comparison to the year prior, although national enrollment increased by 0.5%, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
The number of students at community colleges has declined by 37% or by nearly 2.6 million,since 2010, across the country, clearinghouse said.
Last year, much of what Whitmer wanted in her State of the State speech — including tax cuts and a repeal of right to work — was passed by a Legislature controlled entirely by Democrats.
This year could be more challenging with the state House membership deadlocked at 54-54 until at least April. Two Democratic representatives left their seats in November after winning mayoral races and special elections will be held in the two heavily Democratic districts on April 16.
— with files from uppermichiganssource.com