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Labor and Economic Opportunity

U.P., Northern MI leaders applaud Michigan Reconnect and its regional impact

New scholarship initiative offers historic opportunity for 395,000 regional residents age 25+ to earn an associate degree or skills certificate

February 22, 2021

Media Contact: Camara Lewis, 517-930-4928

Legislative, education, economic development and business leaders from northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula joined Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) to voice their support and tout local benefits for residents taking advantage of the state’s new Michigan Reconnect program.

The aim of Michigan Reconnect is to make it easier and more affordable than ever for adults with some or no college experience to earn a postsecondary degree or skills certificate. In northern Michigan and the U.P., 395,000 residents would be eligible for the scholarship.

“With more than 40,000 applications submitted statewide since the program launched on Feb. 2, the response to Michigan Reconnect is certainly off to a good start,” said Susan Corbin, acting director for LEO. “But we can’t stop there. In order to ensure all Michiganders have an opportunity for a prosperous future, we need all businesses, teachers, parents, family and friends encouraging those they work with or know to take that leap and take advantage of this opportunity to achieve their associate degree or skills certificate for little to no cost.”

Michigan Reconnect is the largest effort in state history to ensure Michiganders who are 25 or older and don’t have a college degree – more than 4.1 million people in all – have an opportunity to earn a tuition-free or deeply discounted associate degree or skills certificate.

“The goal here in northern Michigan, the Upper Peninsula and across the state is to meet the growing demand for highly skilled workers,” said state Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City. “Getting a college degree or training certificate will go a long way toward building a stronger regional workforce – which benefits families and communities alike.”

Reconnect scholarships are accepted by all Michigan community colleges and are also available to eligible adults 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.

“Our school and others in northern Michigan and the U.P. are seeing a huge interest in using Reconnect scholarships to begin – or sometimes to wrap up ­– that associate degree or skills certificate,” said Donald MacMaster, Alpena Community College president.

Eligible residents can attend community college tuition-free at the campus within their community college district. For those who don’t live in-district or choose to attend another campus, Reconnect will cover the in-district portion of tuition.

“While we understand that many residents in northern Michigan and the U.P. live outside a community college district, we believe discounting tuition helps make a postsecondary degree more affordable for everyone,” Corbin added.

To be eligible for Michigan Reconnect, 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)

Eligible program applicants in northern Michigan include 6,346 residents in Alcona County, 14,320 residents in Alpena County, 10,834 residents in Antrim County, 7,932 in Benzie County, 11,367 in Charlevoix County, 13,831 in Cheboygan County, 7,290 in Crawford County, 13,459 in Emmet County, 35,861 in Grand Traverse County, 14,494 in Iosco County, 10,037 in Kalkaska County, 7,300 in Lake County, 7,678 in Leelanau County, 12,565 in Manistee County, 13,734 in Mason County, 7,769 in Missaukee County, 5,665 in Montmorency County, 12,182 in Ogemaw County, 7,195 in Presque Isle County, 14,210 in Roscommon County and 16,704 in Wexford County.

Eligible program applicants in the U.P. include 5,316 residents in Alger County, 4,591 in Baraga County, 18,418 in Chippewa County, 17,384 in Delta County, 11,527 in Dickinson County, 7,804 in Gogebic County, 12,342 in Houghton County, 6,278 in Iron County, 947 in Keweenaw County, 3,545 in Luce County, 5,674 in Mackinac County, 25,731 in Marquette County, 12,526 in Menominee County, 3,565 in Ontonagon County and 4,617 in Schoolcraft County.

Michigan employers’ ability to find highly skilled and capable employees is more difficult than ever and is cited as a top concern in the most recent Michigan Future Business Index Report. Only 34% of northern Michiganders 25 or older have an associate degree or higher, according to state Department of Technology, Management and Budget data.

Organizations from all sectors of the state’s economy have pledged to work as Reconnect Champions to promote awareness of the program, including the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“Michigan Reconnect will help address the dual challenges of the state’s widening talent gap and aging workforce,” said Nikki Devitt, president of Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce. “At the same time, businesses will get the skilled talent needed to not only survive, but thrive.”

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 full-time employees with a high school degree is $40,510 annually, while those with an associate degree make $50,079 per year, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

“This is one of the many reasons Michigan Reconnect is the best first step toward in-demand, high-wage careers,” said Bill Raymond, CEO of Upper Peninsula Michigan Works! “Better jobs mean better communities and a stronger Michigan.”

Individuals looking to take advantage of Reconnect who are unsure what they’d like to study are encouraged to consider some of Michigan’s high-demand careers. A list of those careers and wages by occupation and region is available on the Michigan Reconnect website.

Michigan Reconnect builds on the success of the Futures for Frontliners initiative Gov. Whitmer launched last September and to which more than 120,000 essential front-line workers submitted applications for tuition-free college or high school completion.

Both free-tuition programs align with the state’s Sixty by 30 goal of ensuring 60% of Michiganders will have a postsecondary degree by 2030. Funding for Michigan Reconnect was introduced in Gov. Whitmer’s FY 2020-21 budget proposal. A bipartisan group of legislators approved $30 million in state funding.

Michigan Reconnect – one of Gov. Whitmer’s signature accomplishments introduced in her first State of the State address – is included in her recommended budget for fiscal year 2022 with a proposed quadrupling of funding with a one-time $120 million appropriation.

Eligible residents can learn more and apply for Michigan Reconnect at Michigan.gov/Reconnect.