New Tuition-Free Program Aimed at Adult Students

February 18, 2021

Kathryn DePauw
Editor in Chief

With many across the country facing an uncertain economic future, access to higher education may be the lifeline they need. Luckily, there is good news for adults without (or currently working toward) a college degree or special skills training. Support has grown for government funded higher education. In the past month, legislation has followed to cement these policies.


On Feb. 2, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the rollout of a new program that offers tuition-free two-year college or certificate education for lower-income adult students. Named “Michigan Reconnect,” the program is designed to address the state’s need for skilled workers. As of 2019, Michigan ranked 31st in the country with 41% of adult residents holding an associate degree or higher.


Funding for Reconnect was included in the governor’s 2020-21 budget proposal and had some bipartisan support. “Even if Michigan were able to keep every high school and college graduate, it wouldn’t be enough to fill our state’s talent gap,” state Senator Ken Horn (R) explained, “Our aim with Michigan Reconnect is to meet our state’s workforce need by encouraging and assisting residents to afford and achieve a college credential or advanced certificate. Now our state has a tool to reach out to adults wanting to pursue postsecondary education, if they choose to.”


The scholarship program will cover tuition costs for adults to earn an associate degree or skills certificate at their local community college. If they do not live within a community college’s district, they may attend a college out-of-district and the scholarship will cover the cost of the in-district tuition rate. This gap will lead to certain students still paying for a portion of their schooling. NMC students who live outside of Grand Traverse County fall in this category and are responsible for about half of the out-of-district tuition rate.


Applications are now being accepted at michigan.gov/reconnect. Adults must be at least 25 years of age, a high school graduate, a Michigan resident for at least one year, and have no previous higher education degree or certificate. An estimated 4.1 million adults are eligible for the program, with more than 19,000 applying within the first 24 hours. At NMC, 115 students have already been approved for the scholarship, many of them current students. There are 225 more who are waiting on FAFSA completion to qualify. Staff is working on setting up the system to process the awards by the end of March.


Reconnect will add to other recent programs that help make higher education more affordable and accessible. The Futures for Frontliners scholarship program provides tuition-free two-year community college education to those essential workers who worked during the Stay Home, Stay Safe order in Spring of 2020. Approximately 20,000 Michigan residents who applied did not qualify for Frontliners but will qualify instead for the Michigan Reconnect scholarship.

NMC has also allocated additional grant funding to students this past year to address the increased need during COVID. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), which Congress passed in December 2020, granted aid to students for educational and emergency related expenses. $898,000 has been awarded to full-time students, with the amount based on student need. These funds represent 85% of the $1.06 million that was earmarked for direct student aid and will be available to students by mid-February. The money can be used toward college classes, supplies, and fees, or for living expenses like food, childcare, or health care.


“This financial support is critical to helping NMC meet the needs of the learners of our region. In 2020, we pivoted quickly and made major changes to keep delivering education, while also keeping our students and employees safe, all without raising tuition,” said NMC president Nick Nissley. “While we are proud of the work we’ve done to balance the budget so far, we know that some of those adjustments are one-time fixes. The pandemic will have a longer-lasting impact on many industries, including higher education, and we need to continue to look for ways to right the ship.”


The Biden administration supports at least limited student loan forgiveness so there could be even more good news ahead for students and graduates. Hopefully these efforts will help those impacted by COVID access a brighter, more prosperous future.

Interested in applying for the Michigan Reconnect Scholarship?

NMC has resources available to walk you through the process of applying. Check out the information below or go to nmc.edu/admissions/michigan-reconnect for more information. Students can apply now, whether they plan on enrolling is Summer, Fall, or even next Spring semester.

Make sure you are eligible:

  • At least 25 years old

  • Have a high school diploma or GED

  • Have lived in Michigan for at least one year

  • Do not have a college degree (associates or bachelor’s)

Acceptance into NMC and FAFSA enrollment are necessary before the scholarship application will be accepted. (FAFSA deadline for 2020-21 is June 30, 2021-22 is open now). Check out NMC’s scholarship opportunities and apply at nmc.edu/scholarships. These funds can be used to help cover costs that Michigan Reconnect doesn’t (course fees, books, etc).

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