Sixty by 30: Whitmer slow-walks Michigan taxpayers into paying for all college education
The word ‘free’ should never be used when doling out taxpayer money
Is Gov. Gretchen Whitmer slow-walking a scheme to provide college education at the taxpayer’s expense? The governor’s Sixty by 30 plan aims to increase the share of working-age adults with a skill certificate or college degree to 60% by 2030. Michigan Capitol Confidential will take a closer look at this plan over the coming months.
The initiative is housed within the Labor and Economic Opportunity Department, and a program called Michigan Reconnect is the vehicle to achieve Whitmer’s goal.
Michigan Reconnect uses taxpayer dollars to cover the cost of tuition or training for an associate degree or skills certificate for eligible residents. The payments are directed toward in-district tuition at community colleges. In other words, if a student attends a community college in the area, the state will help pay for it.
The program only requires the student to “pursue” a post-secondary credential. No language in these programs stipulates that a person must finish a program. The student who uses taxpayer dollars to pursue a degree or certificate, but doesn’t fully complete the program, is not required to pay back the money.
The Whitmer administration has not told the public the number of students who have used taxpayer funds for additional schooling but did not graduate. Nor has it disclosed how much taxpayer money has been wasted due to students not completing a degree or certificate.
Whitmer announced in August 2022 that more than 100,000 residents “are on their way to a tuition-free degree or skills certificate through the Michigan Reconnect program.”
The word “free” should never be used when the government is doling out taxpayer money. The government is funded by the taxpayer. This is the type of language government officials use when they want to make a policy seem palatable.
Michigan Reconnect began February 2021, and Whitmer is already requesting changes in eligibility and an increase in funding. At first, the minimum age for applying for assistance was 25. Whitmer recommended, in her latest State of the State address, lowering the age to 21, and she included that proposal in a recently released budget request.
The state budget gave Michigan Reconnect $14.2 million for grants in the 2020-21 fiscal year, with 17,085 students receiving funds. It is not known how many of those students completed their certificate or degree, because the Whitmer administration has released that information.
Lawmakers increased the amount for Michigan Reconnect grants to $55 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year, and they allocated the same amount in 2022-23. The Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity spent $1.4 million to administer the program in 2020-21.
Whitmer’s 2024 budget presentation now requests $65 million for ongoing costs of Michigan Reconnect and an additional $140 million for expanding eligibility to those 21 to 24 years old.
Whitmer also is asking for another $55 million that will be given to the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, with $30 million of that for what she describes as “Student Wraparound Services and Basic Needs Supports.” The department will use $25 million for the College Success Fund, which will provide grants to schools for “best practices.”
It is unclear what “best practices” means, as the budget document provides no additional information.
There is an additional request to spend $75 million in federal funds for the Reconnect Bachelor’s Degree Pathway Program, which will likely subsidize tuition for students who dropped out of college and want to return.
With the governor consistently calling for more spending on Michigan Reconnect and loosening its eligibility requirements, state taxpayers appear to be on a road to footing the entire bill for college.
Jamie A. Hope is assistant managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.