News Story

Whitmer: Taxpayers should fund community college for all

Price tag: To-be-determined; impact questionable

Last week at her 2024 State of the State address, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer floated the idea of taxpayer-funded community college for all high school graduates in Michigan.

“Every single Michigander can count on a free public education from pre-K through community college,” Whitmer told lawmakers. “That’s the Michigan guarantee.”

Media reports out of Lansing described it as “free community college.” Whitmer plans to remove age restrictions from the Michigan Reconnect program, which pays in-district tuition for high school graduates. Last year, the age limit for participating was lowered from 25 to 21. In 2024 Whitmer wants every high school graduate, regardless of age, to have access to taxpayer-funded tuition.

Molly Macek is the Mackinac Center’s director of education policy. Last year in CapCon, Macek noted a problem with Michigan Reconnect: There’s a lack of good data to tell whether it works.

“But the state lacks evidence of the program’s success – it does not even track whether graduates of the program land jobs, for instance,” Macek wrote.

Whitmer presents universal community college as essential to her “Sixty by ‘30” goal, which is to have 60% of state residents hold a post-high school certification or degree of some sort by 2030. A bare majority of Michiganders — 50.5% — met that standard in 2021, according to MI School Data. And only 53.7% of American had met that standard.

Related reading: Sixty by 30: Whitmer slow-walks Michigan taxpayers into paying for all college education

Reaching 60% in six years would push Michigan well above the national average.

Credentials fall into three groups: a bachelor’s degree or higher, an associate degree, and short-term credential. Michigan lags in bachelor’s degrees and short term credentials relative to America, as shown in the graphic below. But Michigan outpaces America when it comes to associate degrees, with 10.2% of residents holding one compared to 9.2% of Americans.

Whitmer says the program will cover both associate degrees and skills certificates. The Associated Press noted that “the governor’s team did not provide a cost estimate for the program’s expansion to all high school graduates.”

A price tag never appeared in Whitmer’s remarks or in a fact sheet on the proposal.

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.