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Mid-Michigan mom says free college tuition with Michigan Reconnect is answer to her family's prayers

What terrifies 32-year-old Erica Mata about getting her nursing degree isn’t needing to balance long hours studying with waiting tables and raising three children. It’s student loans.

But now – thanks to free community college tuition available through the new Michigan Reconnect scholarship program – the Bay City mother can complete her associate degree at Delta College without racking up additional debt.

“It’s amazing. I can start next semester with Reconnect covering my tuition, which is just a huge weight off my shoulders,” Mata said. “Reconnect is the chance for me and so many others to get out there and reach for our dreams.”

Mata shared her college degree quest Monday at a Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) virtual news conference where Mid-Michigan legislative, education and economic development leaders discussed the regional benefits for residents taking advantage of Reconnect.

The aim of the initiative is to make it easier and more affordable than ever for Michiganders who are 25 or older with some or no college experience – more than 4.1 million people in all – to earn an associate degree or skills certificate.

In Mid-Michigan and the Thumb, nearly 463,000 residents would be eligible for the scholarship.

“With more than 45,000 applications statewide since the program launched one month ago, we can see that Michiganders are excited to pursue a postsecondary degree at little to no cost,” 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 anyone without a degree to take advantage of this opportunity to achieve a tuition-free or deeply discounted associate degree or skills certificate.”

An education beyond high school opens the door to many new opportunities – with earnings of $7,500 more per year for those with a two-year degree.

But Michigan employers’ ability to find highly skilled employees is more difficult than ever. Only 31% of Mid-Michigan and Thumb residents 25 or older have an associate degree or higher, according to state Department of Technology, Management and Budget data.

“Michigan ranks 34th in the nation for postsecondary degrees. Without a doubt, a program like Michigan Reconnect is long overdue,” said state Rep. Cynthia Neeley, D-Flint.

Talent is one of the single most important factors in business attraction and growth. Organizations from all sectors of the state’s economy have pledged to work as Reconnect Champions to promote awareness of the program, including the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance.

“Now more than ever, we need to invest in our workforce and businesses to ensure strong recovery and growth,” said Matt Felan, president and CEO of the economic development organization.

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 Mid-Michigan and the Thumb include 8,679 in Arenac County, 51,706 in Bay County, 17,625 in Clare County, 189,496 in Genesee County, 14,529 in Gladwin County, 17,014 in Huron County, 31,849 in Midland County, 12,476 in Osceola County, 90,665 in Saginaw County and 28,870 in Tuscola County.

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.

Because money isn’t the only barrier to student success, some community colleges offer other supports to help smooth the road toward a degree.

“We have a host of additional support services to help every student succeed, including affordable on-campus childcare, help with housing and food insecurity, and tutoring and academic support,” said Mott Community College President Beverly Walker-Griffea.

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 may live outside a community college district, we believe discounting tuition helps make a postsecondary degree more affordable for everyone,” Corbin added.

More than 530,000 job openings are projected annually in Michigan through 2028. Many of them are in high-demand, high-wage fields such as information technology, computer science, manufacturing, healthcare and professional trades.

“Highly trained workers are in high demand. Gov. Whitmer’s Reconnect initiative is perfect to fill those jobs and moreover make education and those employment opportunities accessible to people who otherwise might not be able to afford college,” said Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley.

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

Reconnect funding was introduced in Gov. Whitmer’s FY 2020-21 budget proposal. A bipartisan group of legislators approved $30 million in state funding. The program 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