Over 7,000 Michiganders receive degrees through statewide tuition-free college program - TAI News
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Graduating college students sitting during a ceremony. (Joshua Hoehne / Unsplash)

Michiganders who graduated from community college with the support of a state-funded scholarship came together to celebrate their achievements at a virtual ceremony held on May 22.

The event, hosted by the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential, also gave state officials the chance to laud the Michigan Reconnect scholarship program. They reported over 7,000 Michigan adults have completed a postsecondary degree tuition-free since the scholarship opened in 2021. The program is part of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s goal of getting 60% of the state’s workforce a postsecondary degree by 2030.

Wayne County resident Ahmani Ashanti said during the event that she has always valued education, but she wasn’t prepared to attend college right after graduating high school. Instead, she entered the workforce, but she knew not having a higher education would be a roadblock to the career she wanted.

Once Ashanti learned that Michigan Reconnect would give her the chance to go back to school, she said she “took the opportunity and ran with it.”

“It really felt like a do-or-die, once-in-a-lifetime chance for me to finally be able to reach my full, untapped potential that I always knew I had,” she said. 

Ashanti used the scholarship to earn an associate’s degree from Wayne County Community College in December 2022. She most recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University and began a graduate social work program.

“I cannot praise it enough,” Ashanti said of the Michigan Reconnect program. “I’ve told all of my family and friends, anybody who will listen, actually, just how amazing it is and how important it is to become educated and to just pretty much take the power back in your own hands when it comes to deciding your future and how you want to live.”

The Michigan Reconnect scholarship covers the costs of community college tuition or skilled trades training for Michigan residents who have a high school diploma but don’t have a college degree. When the program launched three years ago, it was initially only open to residents who were at least 25 years old, but a $70 million appropriation in the state budget in the 2024 fiscal year temporarily expanded eligibility to those ages 21 or older.

Whitmer, who earlier this year proposed a plan for tuition-free community college for all high school graduates in Michigan, made an appearance at the event via a prerecorded video message. In her speech, Whitmer congratulated the students for their hard work, emphasizing that many of them were simultaneously juggling school with work and family responsibilities.

“You may think your story is ordinary, but the truth is, every seemingly ordinary story took a lot of serious guts,” Whitmer said. “It takes guts to care for your kids while going to work and school full time. It takes guts to go back to school to switch careers after decades of experience. It takes guts to put yourself out there and to challenge yourself to achieve, but each and every one of you has gotten it done, and you are a source of inspiration for all of us.”

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