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Labor and Economic Opportunity

Unique partnership leads to tuition-free college

Kent county, Grand Rapids Community College partner to prepare the state’s talent for 21ST-century careers


CONTACT: Erica Quealy, 517-582-2961
KENT ISD CONTACT: Ron Koehler, 616-365-2292
GRCC CONTACT: Dave Murray, 616-747-1940

March 20, 2019

LANSING, Mich.—Gov. Whitmer presented a budget that called for increased funding in education to help fill Michigan’s talent pipeline, with that call-to-action, the state is highlighting educational opportunities that prepare students to fill the skills gap and get a head start on their postsecondary education.

Launch U is a specialized early college program for eligible Kent ISD high school students, by extending school by one year they earn their diploma, a general associate degree or a specialty associate degree in Mechanical Design from Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC). Students also have the option to graduate with industry recognized certificates, without extending beyond their 12th grade.

Both educational pathways are offered at no cost.

The Governor has called for 60 percent of Michiganders achieving postsecondary credentials by 2030, a 43.7 percent increase, to help close the state’s skills gap and position Michigan as a place with a highly skilled population.

“Programs that are designed to support students in their career and educational pathways are at the forefront of reaching the state’s educational attainment goals,” said Talent and Economic Development Department of Michigan Acting Director Stephanie Beckhorn. “When students are set on a path to earn a certificate, two or four-year degree, employers gain a highly-skilled talent pool to fill the 811,000 jobs coming open through 2024, and the state grows closer to filling the skills gap – it’s a win-win.”

While saving them time and money, students earn up to 60 college credits from courses taught by GRCC instructors. Those credits can be transferred to a four-year college or university if students choose to continue their education – preparing them for the state’s Professional Trades careers.

By their 13th year, Launch U students are taking classes fulltime on Grand Rapids Community College’s campus.

“Partnering with the Kent ISD to provide more opportunities for an affordable education is part of our focus on being relevant and responsive to the community we serve,” GRCC President Bill Pink said. “Launch U is an opportunity for students gain credits for a degree or to transfer to a four-year university. It also provides students with skills for in-demand careers. Both pathways help students, and our community as a whole.”

Launch U provides access to rigorous college courses without the fiscal burden other students may experience who choose a more traditional pathway.

“With college debt a looming challenge for most, early middle college is a fantastic response,” said Dr. William Smith, assistant superintendent for instructional services at Kent ISD. “Launch U is a unique opportunity to close the distance between education and career.”

Upon completion of their training, and earning national recognized certifications, students are ready to enter in West Michigan’s high-skill manufacturing industry, where their talent is in high-demand and jobs are high-wage.

“More and more first-generation college students will have access to college, careers in high-skill and high-demand fields, and in a shorter time frame,” Dr. Smith added.

The Going PRO campaign is the state’s one-stop resource for exploration in Michigan’s most high-demand, high-wage careers in Professional Trades. These are career opportunities that are available through various education pathways, including credential attainment, two or four-year degrees.

Students wanting to participate in the Launch U program need to turn in their applications by March 29, learn more on their website at

Students, parents, educators and other influencers are encouraged to use the state’s Pathfinder website to learn more about the educational pathways leading to high-demand, high-wage careers. Find additional information about Professional Trades careers in Michigan at