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Chamber President Joins Lt. Gov. Gilchrist, Regional Leaders to Rally Around Reconnecters to Boost Adult Student Success, Retain Local Talent

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II today joined with state, education, business, and community leaders, including Detroit Regional Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Sandy K. Baruah, in pledging support for nearly 37,000 Southeast Michigan residents who’ve applied for a Michigan Reconnect scholarship in its first two months.

Approximately 57% of all the nearly 65,000 applicants statewide live in Southeast Michigan, including 7,500 in Detroit. Per capita, Washtenaw and Wayne counties, respectively, have the largest number of applicants in the region. A map shows Southeast Michigan applicants by county.

Statewide, newly released data from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) also shows:

  • 67% are female
  • 2 in 5 are people of color
  • 32% are Black
  • One-third are 25-29 years old
  • Nearly 4,000 are 55 and older

The massive influx of applicants far exceeds expectations and LEO’s initial goal to enlist 60,000 applicants by Memorial Day. Lt. Gov. Gilchrist said he believes Reconnect will help close significant educational gaps – specifically, those related to race and ethnicity.

“It’s crucial that we work together to boost educational attainment beyond high school. Now more than ever, economic opportunity and social mobility are directly tied to educational attainment,” Gilchrist said.

Adults without a college degree or training credential often face economic challenges. Research shows an education beyond high school opens the door to many new opportunities – with earnings of $7,500 more per year for those with a two-year degree.

“These numbers show the excitement across Michigan for a chance at a tuition-free associate degree or skills certificate,” said LEO Acting Director Susan Corbin. “Along with the rest of the state, we are excited to see the many ways Michigan Reconnect will help advance the social and economic well-being of our communities.”

Corbin made her comments today at a LEO virtual news conference where Southeast Michigan education, business, and community leaders discussed Reconnect and the regional benefits for residents pursuing a postsecondary degree.

Michigan Reconnect is the largest effort in state history to make it easier and more affordable for residents 25 or older without a college degree – more than 4.1 million statewide – to earn a tuition-free associate degree or skills certificate at their in-district community college or private training school.

Data released March 25 shows that 36,725 Southeast Michigan residents have applied for Reconnect since its debut Feb. 2. Applicants and those eligible in the region include 387 (44,256 eligible) in Lapeer County, 540 (47,792) in Lenawee County, 638 (72,628) in Livingston County, 6,934 (395,117) in Macomb County, 1,063 (71,448) in Monroe County, 6,968 (396,224) in Oakland County, 106 (22,436) in Sanilac County, 866 (77,873) in St. Clair County, 1,909 (84,797) in Washtenaw County and 17,314 (800,343) in Wayne County.

Reconnect scholarships are accepted by all Michigan community colleges and are also available to eligible adults already enrolled in their local community college. The program pays the remaining balance of tuition and mandatory fees after other state and federal financial aid have been applied. For those who choose to attend an out-of-district community college, Reconnect will pay the in-district portion of tuition.

Community colleges across the state have already accepted thousands of “Reconnecters” for classes beginning this summer.

Henry Ford College President Russell A. Kavalhuna said many students face life challenges that affect education, like paying bills, caring for family, technology, work schedules, and food insecurity. That’s why Henry Ford College and others across Michigan offer support to address these specific needs.

“College should be a pathway, not an obstacle,” Kavalhuna said. “Our goal is to meet students where they are, with what they need, when they need it.”

Pontiac resident Danielle Ybarra, 29, was recently accepted into Reconnect and is looking forward to returning to Oakland Community College (OCC) this fall to complete the associate degree she started in 2010.

“When I started at OCC, I was determined to complete my degree no matter how long it took,” Ybarra said. “But, like a lot of other people, it’s not always easy balancing school, work, and a family. Michigan Reconnect is a huge opportunity for me to finally finish the degree I’ve always wanted.”

Michigan employers’ ability to find highly skilled employees is more difficult than ever.

Increasing educational attainment is a pillar of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s mission, understanding that advanced training is important for the business community, said President and Chief Executive Officer Sandy K. Baruah.

“There are almost 700,000 people in our region who started college but never finished a degree,” Baruah said. “With 75% of the jobs of the future requiring a postsecondary degree, the chamber believes businesses have a critical role to play in advancing educational opportunities. The Michigan Reconnect program allows companies to support their employees in attaining talent and skills needed for the global marketplace.”

The Chamber has been a long-time champion of the drive to have 60% of adults with a two-year or four-year degree or a skilled certificate by the year 2030. We have to get adults currently in the workforce to finish that degree or credential – that’s good for them, their families, their communities, and our employers.

In addition to the work being done with the Reconnect program, the Chamber is actively working with businesses, led by its CEO Talent Council, chaired by Kelly CEO Peter Quigley, to encourage businesses to:

  • Implement programs that allow employees the flex time necessary to balance return-to-school, work, and family. 
  • Offer incentives – such as financial support for books and incidentals that ease the path to that degree. 
  • And work with employees to create a career pathway that makes clear the benefits of adding to their education. 

Organizations and individuals from all sectors of the state’s economy have pledged to promote awareness of the program as Reconnect Champions, including Oakland County Executive David Coulter.

“This isn’t just a hypothetical, pie-in-the-sky program. Michigan Reconnect is definitely going to help real people who are looking to improve their quality of life and prepare for the future,” Coulter said.

To be eligible for Michigan Reconnect, you must be at least 25 years old when you apply, have lived in Michigan for a year or more, have a high school diploma, and have not yet completed a college degree (associate or bachelor’s).

Eligible residents can learn more and apply for Michigan Reconnect at Michigan.gov/Reconnect.