Seven things to know about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s debt-free college plan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants the state to pay for two years of college for students, a plan that could cost upwards of $100 million per year.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is pushing an ambitious revamp of Michigan’s college scholarship program. Administrative officials are working out details, and more changes likely would be at least debated in the Republican-led Legislature, which may or may not approve the proposal.

Related: Whitmer pushes college aid. But success rates vary wildly at Michigan schools
In Tennessee, a model for Michigan’s plan for debt-free community college

Here’s what you need to know:

Free community college for newly graduated high school graduates.

The Michigan Opportunity Scholarship would assure that recent Michigan graduates could attend the state’s 27 community colleges as full-time students without paying tuition or mandatory fees. While those costs vary by campus, that cost is currently around $3,000 a year.

Almost all students qualify – they just have to have graduated from a Michigan high school and have lived in Michigan for a year. Students have three years to complete 60 credits, which is the equivalent of two years of full-time study.

Related: Gov. Whitmer: Boost schools by $507 million, with more for neediest students

Students enrolling in four-year public or nonprofit private universities can get $2,500 annually for two years toward tuition.

To qualify for the Michigan Opportunity Scholarship, students must have a 3.0 grade point average in high school and have a family income under $80,000 a year.

How much of tuition that covers depends on your income and which school you attend. For example, the net price of attendance (tuition, fees and housing minus scholarships) at Grand Valley State University is $11,247 for low-income students; at Michigan State, that same student would have a net cost of $6,665.

An estimated 50,000 students would qualify each year for the Opportunity Scholarship.

That figure, provided by the Whitmer administration, is based on current college-enrollment rates for high school seniors.

Michigan’s lowest-income students would benefit the least.

The scholarship would be “last dollar,” meaning other scholarships and grants are applied first toward tuition and fees. Low-income students qualify for federal Pell grants that typically cover the cost of community college.

So at community colleges, the state’s new scholarship program would primarily help middle- and high-income families.

Low-income students would benefit from the program at most four-year universities, where Pell Grants don’t cover all the cost of tuition and fees.

The cost to the state is estimated at $80 million to $100 million.

That estimate is from the Whitmer administration, based on estimates of how many students would qualify and tuition costs at state community colleges.

That may not be all new money. Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, has been involved with administration officials on the rollout of the program. She says some small existing scholarship programs that now benefit low-income students may be rolled into the new scholarship.

March 5: Six big proposals in Gretchen Whitmer’s first Michigan budget

For adults, there would be a separate program for free community college or technical training.

Called Michigan Reconnect, residents age 25 and older could enroll in community colleges, career certificate programs and union apprenticeships at no cost.

There’s no income cap and students can attend full-time or part-time.

Michigan isn’t inventing something new. This has worked in Tennessee.

Whitmer’s plan is nearly identical to Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect, which has offered debt-free community college since 2014 and helped increase the rates of those attending college.

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Kevin Grand
Wed, 02/27/2019 - 7:06am

Michigan Promise v2.0, anyone?

So between "fixing the damn roads", free health care, more money for schools, more money for local communities and repealing the pension tax, that concept will last for how long again?

Gov Whitmer has obviously studied economics in the same institution as one Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 8:46am


I am with you 100%.

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 1:52pm


Sue Harvey
Wed, 02/27/2019 - 9:12am

Investing in the talent, skills, brain power that employers say are in short supply in our state..great use of tax dollars.

Kevin Grand
Wed, 02/27/2019 - 11:18am

If they truly feel that is the case, then THEY shoukd put their money own where there mouth is.

Do a keyword search on the Henry Ford Trade Academy to see how business already solved that "problem".

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 1:54pm

Where do the tax dollars come feom for all this?

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 11:49pm

For how many generations has each new wave of elected officials made similar 'promises' and yet we keep hearing how bad things are, it is the same old political line?
If you truly want change where students learn, we need to hear about what the performance metrics will be to see if there will be any change in results. And if they don't include the student's role/responsibilities [for that is why students learn] then nothing will change.

John B
Wed, 02/27/2019 - 6:38pm

Well, she learned under the best ...Jennifer Granholm...on how to spend everyone else’s money

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 10:23am

Why is she not jumping on repealing the retirement tax like she said she would ?

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 10:37am

To the author, you say that this plan will benefit middle and high income families. What do you consider high income? I ask because you also said that only families with income less than 80k will be eligible. Do you think 80 k/year is high income?

I think this is great. One of the best investments a government can make is in its citizens, especially in its youthful citizens.

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 12:19pm

I pay for my own school while working full-time. Pell grant was more than enough to get my foot in the door. I think that it's a nice idea but the funds could be put to better use. Higher education is not an essential human need and this will pack classes with people who didn't earn their seat.

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 3:04pm

Last time I attended I recall having to take a test and in the fields where I was not proficient I had to take remedial courses. So people attending we'll have to live up to a standard and quote earn their seat. We can only hope that's the case.

Nat Pernick
Wed, 02/27/2019 - 4:26pm

I started and ran the nonprofit The Detroit College Promise, now run by the Detroit Public School Foundation. We gave scholarships to DPS students, and found that 50%+ of DPS graduates got the maximum Pell grants. This covered community college tuition, and 85%+ of the tuition at many 4 year institutions, including UM Ann Arbor, Wayne State, Oakland and Michigan State, which provided other scholarships to full Pell students who attended full time. But the students had to fill out the FAFSA form, be accepted into the institutions, and be motivated to continue in what was often a very different environment than high school.

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 6:16pm

Let me guess her children will be college age soon and she wants us to foot the bill.

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 11:10pm

This only benefits low income families. My kids would not benefit. I hope this does not pass.

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 9:09am

Ditto Kevin! This governor doesn't care about making the debt again we just spent the last 8 years getting rid of. MI voters better ditch her fast! Or our state will be over run by freeloaders we ho will come here, vote Democratic because of these programs, and imbalance the real people who pay the Bill's for MI!

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 9:21am

Fix my damn roads. Lower my auto insurance. I dont want to pll at someone else's bills

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 2:42pm

Her campaign promise was to stop taking taxes out of pensions to help senior citizens get by. Snyder started taking taxes out. It was on her website to do this. Now it looks like they are not getting a tax break. Is this money going to be used for free hand outs?

Sat, 03/02/2019 - 7:48pm

You get a tax credit for up to $3000 a year or thereabouts for tuition, so the full cost of community college is refunded by the IRS if you claim it. Tuition is already free. Unless you are stupid like me and don't find out about it until it is too late.

Sun, 03/03/2019 - 1:26pm

I believe there are 28 community colleges.