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Whitmer wants free community college for all. Michigan House has other plans

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talking to students
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks to two Stevenson High School students who compete on the high school robotics teams on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. Whitmer is promoting her proposal to provide free community college tuition to all recent Michigan high school graduates. (Bridge photo: Isabel Lohman)
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is proposing a plan to provide community college tuition-free for all recent Michigan high school graduates
  • House Democrats approved a budget plan that omits the guarantee but expands eligibility for a state scholarship program 
  • Whitmer says she’s confident she’ll convince lawmakers to back her plan during ongoing budget negotiations

LIVONIA — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visited a high school career training center Wednesday to promote her proposal to guarantee free community college for all high school graduates. 

But that guarantee — a key provision of her $80.7 billion budget plan — appears in jeopardy after the Democratic-led state House omitted it later Wednesday as they approved their own alternative spending plan. 

“We all know that there is not one path to prosperity for everyone, but every single person deserves to find the path for them,” Whitmer said at the Livonia Career Technical Center, a high school training facility that will soon offer associates degrees through an early college program. 

Whitmer is proposing a $30 million funding boost for the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, in part to ensure that all recent high school graduates can attend community college tuition-free.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaking into a microphone
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke to a crowd in Livonia Wednesday, May 8, 2024 to promote her plan to offer free Pre-K for all 4-year-olds and free community college tuition for all recent high school graduates. (Bridge photo: Isabel Lohman)

She'd do so by lifting family income caps for "last dollar" scholarships that would cover the cost of tuition after other aid. 

The governor's plan would also let some students qualify for an additional $1,000 to offset costs for food, housing, transportation and child care. 


The Whitmer administration estimates the guarantee would save more than 18,000 Michigan students up to $4,820 on tuition each year. 

The Michigan Achievement Scholarship provides up to $2,750 a year for a student to attend a community college for up to three years. The scholarship provides up to $4,000 per year for independent nonprofit colleges and up to $5,500 a year for public universities. Students must enroll full-time. 

An alternative House plan approved Wednesday in a 56-50 vote does not include Whitmer’s tuition guarantee, but would increase state spending on the scholarship program by $36 million — $6 million more than the governor is proposing — in an attempt to encourage more participation.  

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talks to people
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks with health science instructor Leah Gagnon and Livonia Public Schools high school seniors Audrey Gehlhausen and student Alexis Guldner. (Bridge photo: Isabel Lohman)

The House plan would expand student eligibility for the state scholarship and allow students to use their funds to cover the full “cost of attendance,” including books, housing, food, transportation expenses, a personal computer, child care allowance and even "reasonable costs" for study abroad programs.

Often, community college students can’t afford to pay for these items and are currently ineligible for the state scholarship because they are part-time, sponsoring Rep. Samantha Steckloff, D-Farmington Hills, told Bridge Michigan.

“So the main idea is to really transform these part-time students to get them full-time,” she said. 

In a separate floor speech, Steckloff said she thinks the House plan will result in a "greatly improved" scholarship program that covers non-tuition costs that are "some of the most profound hurdles that students have to cross in order to actually go through higher education.


"We want more students to thrive - not just barely survive," she said.

Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Whitmer said she is optimistic she’ll still be able to convince lawmakers to support her proposed tuition-free guarantee as they negotiate a compromise budget in coming months. 

“I’m confident, but I have to negotiate with the Legislature,” Whitmer said. “That always happens.”

Whitmer is also proposing free preschool for all students, which lawmakers have not yet embraced. The House and Senate have both issued proposals that expand pre-K access but stop short of making it universal.

The Achievement Scholarship is among a suite of programs Whitmer has pushed while setting a goal of making sure that 60% of working age adults hold a college degree or skills certificate by 2030, up from what the administration says is currently 51%. 

The state also has a tuition-free community college program for adults 25 and older, and temporarily expanded that Michigan Reconnect program to people as young as 21.  

While the House plan does not include Whitmer’s community college guarantee, Steckloff said the proposal goes “one step” beyond the governor’s and would help all college students, not just those attending community colleges.

“What I'm trying to do is with the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, create a program that no student will have to be in the situation of dropping out of school because they've met their loan limit and are now forced to start paying back loans,” Steckloff told Bridge. “We know student debt is one of the most crippling things for our young people today and even millennials.” 


Despite the lack of a guarantee, Steckloff said “almost everyone” who would attend a community college would qualify for the Michigan Achievement Scholarship under the House plan. 

She previously estimated that 75% to 80% of all college students would qualify for the state scholarship. 

A separate Senate plan, up for a vote Thursday, includes a community college guarantee but is slightly different than the version Whitmer proposed. 

None of the competing plans are final. Whitmer is expected to negotiate with House and Senate leaders on a budget agreement this summer.

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