A day after delivering her first State of the State address, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer made Grand Rapids Community College her first stop Wednesday.
Whitmer toured GRCC’s Leslie E. Tassell M-TEC building on Wednesday which houses over 90,000 square feet of space for workforce training in welding, metal and automotive services. The tour comes on the heels of Whitmer’s State of the State address where she announced a proposal for three paths for workers and students in Michigan to receive higher education or a skills training.
Select GRCC students, faculty and staff as well as President Bill Pink were present to welcome the governor to the facility. Pink shared an enthusiastic introduction ahead of Whitmer’s speech at the site’s welding center.
“If you recognize last night as governor Whitmer gave her State of the State address where she talked about many things that have a lot to do with our state but also a lot to do with West Michigan, the idea of the MI Opportunity Scholarship and what that could mean for so many of our students here in West Michigan, here in Grand Rapids, here at GRCC,” Pink said.
Pink also highlighted the college’s latests accomplishments in training and grants the school has received to help students in different programs throughout GRCC, like the first medical assistant apprenticeship ever created in the country and the $100,000 grant received from metal band Metallica for workforce training programs at the M-TEC.
“The GRCC family is one that believes in being relevant and responsive to our community, to our students and to each other,” Pink said before introducing Whitmer. “That is the role not only at GRCC, that’s the role of community colleges in this country: that we stay relevant and responsive to the needs of our community.”
Whitmer addressed the students, faculty and staff present as she took the podium and went on to praise the students present who shared what their GRCC education has done for them in their lives. She also recognized the work that still needs to be done in regard to education and skills training.
“Last night in my State of the State, I announced that we have now set a standard in Michigan that we are going to reach by 2030, if not beforehand, to take us from 44 percent of certificate and skills in our state to 60 percent by 2030,” Whitmer said. “And to do that, we’re going to create easy paths for people to navigate.
“Debt-free community college for anyone who wants to pursue a community college education, an affordable four-year degree path through the MI Opportunity Scholarship and ensuring that people who are already in the workforce but need to upskill to maintain their job or get into a better paying job or who need to get back into the workforce will have the Michigan Reconnect,” Whitmer continued. “There is a path for everyone in this state and if you’re willing to work, you could make a really good life in Michigan.”
Whitmer opened the floor to those in attendance to ask questions about her proposed plans for the state and education for Michiganders. The Collegiate asked Whitmer whether these plans also included older learners or non-traditional students to study at GRCC and other community colleges in the state.
“Last night, I announced three paths,” Whitmer said. “We had this mindset of ladders. There’s one-way, there’s a four-year degree and that’s all we talk about. We’ve done ourselves a huge disservice because number one, it’s impossibly unaffordable for a lot of people and number two, you could make a good living in Michigan with a community college training. You could make a good living in the trades…
“So the three paths that I announced last night, one is focused on the workforce that wants to change jobs or stay competitive in a job that’s changing or get back into the workforce because they’ve been displaced, and that’s the Michigan Reconnect,” Whitmer continued. “It’s modeled after the Tennessee Reconnect that was created by a Republican administration which has had phenomenal results already. We need to replicate that here in Michigan and expand upon it. So that’s why the Reconnect is really aimed at people who have been in the workforce and are ready for new skills that will lead them to better paying jobs.”
Pink acknowledged Whitmer’s proposed plans for workforce training and higher education in Michigan and shared his views on how they will help those students currently at GRCC.
“I think this really hits that middle group of students, those students who aren’t eligible for a full Pell grant, who aren’t able just to shell out the money (for tuition) readily, but have a family and need to have a job while they go to school,” Pink said. “(The new plan) has a good chance of helping them be able to get this done. I think that’s a good opportunity, but I also think that what it can do for some of our students who are part-time – we’re 70 percent part-time – I think it’ll enable students who are having to go part-time right now because they can’t afford anymore, I think it’ll give them the opportunity to say ‘I can go full-time now and not worry about the cost.’ That doesn’t bring new people to the game, but it allows those students who are here to be able to take more classes, finish quicker, and I think that part-time enrollment has a good chance of then going down.”
Deandre Jones, 24, of Grand Rapids, a current student at GRCC, had the opportunity to ask the governor about whether there was a plan for those who get denied jobs or an education because of previous drug-related offenses. The repercussions, Jones said, prevent some individuals from participating in the community or with certain partnerships because of their history.
“I wanted to know what she’s going to do to change that effect that blocks people from giving back to the community,” Jones said. “I feel like she answered (my question) well with the funding and the grants that she’s really trying to do.”