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Governor proposes changes to Michigan Reconnect

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to lower the age to qualify for the Michigan Reconnect plan could backfire. The governor was in Battle Creek today to discuss the plan and its potential impact on community college enrollment.

Changing the age requirement for Michigan Reconnect is currently a temporary move. The goal is to make hundreds of thousands more people eligible for the program. Lowering the minimum age to qualify for free community college tuition may spark interest. But it is also a big risk – one that community colleges may not be able to afford.

Many Michigan community colleges depend on dual-enrolled students to inflate their enrollment figures. In 2021, for example, WCC reported enrolling 322 full-time students and 786 part-time students under the age of 18. That’s nearly 12% of WCC’s full-time students and nearly 10% of its part-time students. These numbers have been steadily creeping upward for the past five years.

Dual-enrolled high school students are already decreasing the number of traditional college-age, first time enrollees. By taking in these students early, WCC is reducing the number of students in this cohort that will enroll (or remain enrolled) in classes following high school. The popularity of dual enrollment will reduce the number of students who are eligible to participate in Michigan Reconnect, if the age qualifications for the program change permanently.

Additionally, most high school students graduate when they are 17-18 years old. Reducing the amount of time these students need to wait to qualify for free tuition may entice students who were college-bound to wait for a few years to begin taking classes. Not enrolling in college classes immediately after high school graduation is one of the biggest risk factors for non-attendance at any age.

Michigan Reconnect May Produce Michigan Disconnect

If these students enter the workforce immediately after high school graduation, they may be earning sufficient income at age 21 to make a trip through college unnecessary. In other words, seeking a community college degree may provide no better earning opportunities than they’ve already experienced from three years of working.

The uptake on the program hasn’t been as good as predicted among age-eligible residents. About 100,000 people have qualified for and been approved to take classes, but only about 18,000 people are actually enrolled. That’s approximately 1 in 5 program applicants. With a less-than 20% enrollment rate, lowering the qualification age may not produce the desired result.

If the goal is to get students into college directly from high school, a better approach may be to offer free community college tuition for all high school graduates.

Photo Credit: EW Scripps School of Journalism , via Flickr