Whitmer to push for free community college tuition at State of the State
- Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to announce a proposal Wednesday to expand who gets free community college tuition
- The state already provides free community college tuition to some Michigan adults
- Cost details are not yet public
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer likely will use her sixth State of the State speech on Wednesday to call for two years of free community college for Michigan high school graduates.
Whitmer teased the announcement in a whimsical social media post on Tuesday that involved her pretending to talk to an anthropomorphic potato she called “Professor Potato.”
Professor Potato and I are teaming up to share some news that will revolutionize higher education in Michigan.— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@GovWhitmer) January 23, 2024
This isn't just small potatoes, it's a game-changer! pic.twitter.com/AhIDBqjMrB
“Michiganders will save an average of $4,000 as they earn their associates degree, setting them up to earn a bachelors or start working and earn a bigger paycheck,” Whitmer said.
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Whitmer’s annual speech is set for 7 p.m. and will be carried live on Bridgemi.com and other broadcast sites. The expected announcement follows years of spending to complete the governor’s goal of having 60% of working age adults with a college degree or skills certificate by 2030, up from 50.5%.
Because of financial aid, most who attend community college can already do so for low costs, but Whitmer and lawmakers have rolled out numerous assistance programs that combine state and federal money to lower or eliminate tuition.
Last year, Michigan invested $70 million to expand Whitmer’s Michigan Reconnect program that pays for community college, lowering the minimum age for free tuition from 25 to 21 years old.
It’s unclear how much the latest expansion would cost.
Lauren Leeds, spokesperson for the State Budget Office, said cost details will be provided in the governor’s executive budget recommendation in early February.
Brandy Johnson, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said the proposal would help simplify messaging around the affordability of getting a college degree.
“It sends a clear message to families that you don’t need to know how the sausage gets made, that in the background, it’s braiding of federal, state and local dollars but at the end of the day, we can say clearly to families ‘you have a tuition-free path to an associates degree.’”
Dan Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, which represents the 15 public universities in the state, said he appreciates the governor’s commitment to higher education, but he predicted regional public university enrollment could fall.
Declining birth rates mean less high school graduates attend colleges and universities.
Bridge Michigan reported in 2022 that while the state’s flagship universities have gained students over the last decade, regional public universities have suffered steep enrollment declines.
This fall, public university enrollment amongst first-time freshman students is up to numbers seen before the pandemic.
Whitmer created a council designed to come up with ideas to grow the state’s population. The council proposed the state should move toward a PreK-14 system where students could receive up to two years of college credits for free.
“This policy will also lead to more graduates with bachelor's degrees in Michigan but will also allow those individuals to graduate with less debt,” Johnson said.
Rep. Jaime Greene, R-Richmond, said in a statement that state leaders should prioritize ensuring that students are ready for college by the time they graduate high school rather than providing free college.
“State leaders shouldn’t be spending time and tax dollars on ‘free college for all’ when our kids are behind on the basics,” she said. “Let’s focus on fundamental education principles like reading, writing and arithmetic in our K-12 schools.”
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