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Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II visits Grand Rapids Community College to praise success of Michigan Reconnect Program

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Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II at the Reconnect event at the ATC. (Photo by Steve Jessmore)

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II visited Grand Rapids Community College today to praise the $55 million bipartisan Reconnect investment into students who return to school after an absence.

This program, which has been renewed for next year, is one of Gilchrist’s favorite educational initiatives for adult learners in the state.

“The groundbreaking Michigan Reconnect program is fully funded for next year and that is reason enough to celebrate on behalf of the tens of thousands of hardworking people taking the first step towards earning a college degree or certificate,” Gilchrist said.

Gilchrist is firm in his belief that education and job training are absolutely essential to the future of the state of Michigan.

“We know that post high-school education experiences and training are critical to not only the future of the individuals who experience them but they are critical to the future of Michigan’s communities and our economies,” said Gilchrist. “They open the door to high-skilled, well-paying jobs, better jobs for more Michigan people, and better opportunities available to more Michigan families.”

In addition to the existing success of the Michigan Reconnect Program, Gilchrist is confident that his partnership with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and their continued efforts to gain funding for students who wish to return to college, will bring more great things to Michigan.

“We, Gov. Whitmer and I… are going to make sure that every potential partner becomes an actual partner deploying the resources and relationships and tools that they have to create a pathway to success for more people and more communities in the state of Michigan because that is our job,” Gilchrist said. “…to create the conditions for Michigan to be the state where it is the best place to have an idea, the best place to have ambition, and the best place for those to be married together so that opportunity can thrive in every place, in every corner, in every community that people call home in the great state of Michigan.”

Gilchrist expressed his desire for as many people in Michigan as possible to possess a credential of some kind.

“All of us know how talented people in Michigan are,” Gilchrist said. “But the importance of being able to have the credentials that can communicate that talent are really what will make the difference for people to connect that talent to the kind of jobs and companies that they want to either start or participate in.”

Gilchrist was joined by Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Sixty by 30 Director Sarah Szurpicki, who is part of Whitmer’s plan to help 60% of Michiganders obtain degrees or certifications of some sort by 2030.

“We know (Michigan residents) are talented already,” Szurpicki said. “They are ambitious and talented people, who we hope will leave their time here at GRCC ready for good paying jobs that are personally fulfilling, and that will provide for their families for years to come.”

Interim GRCC President Juan Olivarez was also in attendance and expressed his happiness that GRCC has become a successful benefactor of the Michigan Reconnect Program.

“We are proud of our success as a Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners partner as we strive to attract, train and graduate students for the high-paying and high-demand jobs that will drive Michigan’s and our region’s economic future,” Olivarez said.

Olivarez was quick to point to the growing number of students enrolling at GRCC as a direct result of the kind of benefits that programs like Michigan Reconnect can bring educational institutions. GRCC has enrolled 1,100 Reconnectors and 1,004 Futures for Frontliners students for the upcoming fall semester.

Also in attendance was a student who has come to see her life change for the better as a result of this program.

Morgan Brink, 32, a married mother of two, and her husband, both lost their jobs during the pandemic and weren’t sure how to support their family. 

“School was never really my thing when I was younger, but today thanks to the Michigan Reconnect Program, school is my thing,” Brink said. “I am taking honors classes here at Grand Rapids Community College, and I am actually on the dean’s list. I have been on the dean’s list every semester that I have been enrolled.”

After the loss of her income, Brink was scared to go back to school, especially if it meant taking money away from her children to pay for tuition.

“I had to reinvent myself. I didn’t really think college was an option because of the cost,” Brink said. “As a mom, you don’t really want to take resources away from your kids or put financial burdens on your family. I heard about the Reconnect Program on the news one day and I decided to push myself and go back to school.”

Brink will soon be finished with her associate’s degree in marketing and plans to move onto Davenport University to get her Bachelor’s as well.

With many students receiving aid through this program, Gilchrist also wanted to remind people that $6 million in grant funding is now available to help mitigate other costs that often keep adult learners from returning to college.

These new grants, which will be distributed by the state’s community and tribal college can be utilized for books, childcare, internet access and transportation as well. 

Students must meet following criteria in order to be eligible for these grants:

  • Be a Michigan Reconnect or Future for Frontliners scholarship participant.
  • Have completed at least one semester within the respective scholarship program they are participating in.
  • Be enrolled already or be in the process of enrolling for a following qualifying semester.

Considering the future of the program, Gilchrist wanted the audience to know that he is committed to continued success at GRCC and community colleges in the state in general.

“We intend to carry that forward and hopefully, with the right kind of legislation, we can even talk about what it looks like to deepen our support,” Gilchrist said. “We will have a year under our belt of the experience of these wrap-around services, and how GRCC and the other community and tribal colleges distribute them.” 

For Gilchrist, a large part of getting adult learners to return to school is making everyone aware of the benefits that are available.

“Certainly our commitment is that everyone in Michigan who wants to pursue higher education has a path to do so,” Gilchrist said. “For everyone at Grand Rapids Community College, we want them to know that this door is open for them.”

Gilchrist also expressed confidence that the Michigan Reconnect program is a good first step in helping him and Whitmer to reach their goal of making community college in Michigan free for all prospective students.

“College affordability is something that has been an anchor priority for our administration,” Gilchrist said. “By making community college tuition-free for adults in Michigan over the age of 25 or for people in Michigan who are working in eligible jobs for Future for Frontliners, we think that is a giant leap towards making (community college) tuition free for everyone.”

For more information on the Michigan Reconnect program, click here.

Collegiate Reporter James Herold contributed quotes to this story.

 

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