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Legislation aims to get more adults back into higher education

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Lame duck season is approaching in the Michigan Legislature. That's when the next crew of legislators has been elected, but the old crew is still in office, trying to get their priorities across the finish line.

One bill package lawmakers are working on would refine a program aimed at helping people aged 25 and older get college degrees and professional certificates.

State Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso) said the state has heavily invested in the “Michigan Reconnect” program.

“But we didn’t really get at that outcomes and accountability side. So this idea that we are actually tracking, using data saying, ‘Are you providing tools to adult learners that have the consequence of improved outcomes for adult learners?’ Your completion rates, your retention,” Frederick said.

The legislation would modify oversight of participating institutions through changing reporting requirements and evaluation metrics to make sure the program is making progress.

It would also adjust the grant structure for out-of-district students so any money they may receive from federal pell grants doesn’t count against them.

Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist has been supportive of the Michigan Reconnect Program since its inception in 2020. He wouldn’t comment on specific elements of the legislation but called “Reconnect” a “transformational investment” in the state’s workforce.

“We’re very excited about what that represents. So, we welcome ideas for improving the programs and making them accessible to get closer to our goals of higher education attainment in Michigan and so we’ll see how those bills look if they come through the Legislature,” Gilchrist said.

Earlier versions of the proposed tweaks to the program would have temporarily lowered the eligibility age for the program to 21 but lawmakers had concerns over that cost.

Frederick said he was supportive of that expansion.

“But it’s been a matter of back and forth and it is contingent on appropriations. Last estimate was that it would be over $90 million, so as we look at getting legislative support and advancing policy bills, that simply was too much of a lift,” he said.

The legislation will be in the Senate’s hands when lawmakers reconvene.

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