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Michigan Reconnect will turn into a pumpkin this fall

The age requirements that the Michigan Legislature dropped last year for the Michigan Reconnect program will expire later this year. That means 21-year-old applicants will no longer be able to take advantage of the program. In November, the age requirements will revert to the program’s original qualification that an applicant must be 25 years of age.

Temporarily qualified applicants between the ages of 21 and 24 must apply for admission and enroll in Fall classes to maintain program eligibility. Additionally, all applicants (regardless of age) must complete the FAFSA financial aid application; be a resident of the State of Michigan; and have completed a high school diploma or GED. Applicants must not have completed more than 60 college credits prior to applying. Additionally, applicants must enroll in at least 12 credits per calendar year to maintain eligibility.

Although the deal sounds promising and more than 125,000 prospective students have applied for and been accepted into the program, only about 20% of those admitted have actually enrolled in classes.

The low enrollment, combined with the low community college completion rate means that the program may eventually yield fewer than 10,000 graduates statewide. That’s well below the State’s goal of having 60% of Michigan’s adult residents earn at least 60 college credits by 2030.

On the surface, Michigan Reconnect isn’t a bad idea. Lansing’s mistake was in assuming that Michigan’s community colleges were prepared to take advantage of the offer. What I think people have found is that Michigan community colleges have failed to invest in the development of new occupational education programs that will lead graduates to high-wage, high-demand jobs.

The disconnect in Michigan Reconnect

Instead, our community colleges long ago signed on to deliver programs that lead to low-wage jobs They also have a lovely selection of programs that have exceeded their “sell-by” dates. It stands to reason that there’s a lot of “demand” out there for low-wage workers, and – for obvious reasons – that low-wage workers are in short supply. But prospective workers aren’t interested in getting in on the ground floor at Poverty, Inc.

It takes a lot of income to get into – and stay in – the middle class. Prospective students want educational opportunities that represent a pathway to financial security. Michigan’s community colleges long ago gave up on their investments in occupational education. Community colleges build very few occupational education programs from the ground up these days. There is very little forward thinking going on among Michigan’s community college administrators. Instead, administrators look for low-value, low-cost “canned” curriculum that they can deliver online. Meanwhile the employment needs of people in the community go unmet, and economic development opportunities get ignored.

Michigan Reconnect could have been more successful, if only the state had done a fair assessment of the condition of its community colleges, and restrict funds to participating institution that could produce occupational education programs that supported its workforce development goals.

Photo Credit: Daryl_Mitchell, via Flickr