COLLEGE HAS NEVER BEEN A BETTER DEAL THAN RIGHT NOW.
Beginning with the 2020 program Futures for Frontliners, Michigan has been investing in community colleges like NMC to create a workforce that will propel the state’s economy forward and improve residents’ overall quality of life. In the 2023-24 academic year, NMC expects more students to benefit from state grants than federal grants. You might even call the slate of programs an “MI Bill." Just like the GI Bill did for the World War II generation nationally, Michigan’s college incentive programs are providing life-changing pathways to prosperity now.
Michigan Reconnect is the largest effort in state history to ensure Michiganders who are 25 or older and don’t have a college degree—more than 4.1 million residents—have an opportunity to earn a tuition-free or deeply discounted associate degree or skills certificate.
“The goal here in northern Michigan, the Upper Peninsula and across the state is to meet the growing demand for highly skilled workers,” former state Senator Wayne Schmidt said of the bipartisan legislation in 2021. “Getting a college degree or training certificate will go a long way toward building a stronger regional workforce—which benefits families and communities alike.”
A proposal to give access to even younger students by dropping Reconnect’s age eligibility to 21 was pending in the Michigan Legislature this spring. “We’re hoping it’s a permanent part of our state financial aid infrastructure,” says Sarah Szurpicki, director of Michigan’s office of Sixty by 30. The goal of her office, established in 2019 within the state department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, is that 60 percent of Michigan residents earn a degree or credential by 2030. (It’s now 50.5 percent, up from 43.7 in 2016.)
“Our role at Sixty by 30 is to get them to your door,” Szurpicki says of the partnership between her office and community colleges.
Reconnect is already changing lives—here’s how.
Amber Clouse / 32 accounting
Search LinkedIn for “accounting jobs, Traverse City” and you’ll get 344 results within 25 miles. Last December, there would have been at least 345—the job that NMC student Amber Clouse filled at Kelly Oil & Gas, five months before she graduated with her associate degree in accounting.
When her sister Janelle, also an NMC accounting graduate, told her about Reconnect, Clouse thought it was too good to be true.
After the cosmetologist learned it was legitimate, however, she wasted no time signing up. “When we were shut down for COVID, I was super unstable,” she says. “I wanted to make a switch and I was always good with numbers.”
Clouse originally planned to get a bookkeeping certificate, but with Reconnect covering costs, decided to go for her degree.
She started in summer 2021 and graduated in May. She works at Kelly three days a week and says her income has risen by about 20 percent. One of her first purchases with her additional income: a new-to-her car. For years, she’d wanted to replace her 2000 Subaru, which had more than 200,000 miles on it. She now drives a 2019 Escape.
“I finally had the stability to do it,” she says. She’ll celebrate her graduation with a vacation to Florida in January. On the itinerary: a “bucket list” item of swimming with manatees. It’s a dream her new income helps make possible.
Clouse advises eligible adults to grab the Reconnect brass ring. “It’s an opportunity that’s once in a lifetime, and you might notget again,” she says.
The current student
Logan Putman / 25 welding
50 Traverse City-area jobs advertised on LinkedIn; 34 on indeed.com
At Traverse City West High School, Putman struggled with motivation. After taking five years to finish, he graduated in 2017 with no desire to go on to college. Then came a string of 11 different jobs, most of them retail. Last summer, Putman decided he wanted to find a job he actually enjoyed.
“My grandma has been coaxing me for a couple years to get more education. I finally took her advice,” says Putman, who long ago dreamed about owning his own welding truck. When he applied to NMC’s welding program in August of 2022, just months shy of his 25th birthday, admissions staff suggested he wait until spring semester, when he’d be eligible for Reconnect. He started January 17, his 25th birthday.
"Don't let dreams just be dreams. Make it your future."
— Logan Putman
Reconnect brought what would have been a four-figure tuition bill down to about $300, for fees and books. This financial windfall means Putman doesn’t have to work while he pursues his welding certificate, which helps him manage the stress and anxiety he’s prone to.
“Definitely having Michigan Reconnect is nice,” he says. “I think schooling is way more important [than work] now.”
Welding instructor Ryan Deering has also been an important part of his success, boosting Putman’s faith in himself when he struggles.
“Know who your support people are and don’t give up. Put your mind to it. Work through the negative,” Putman says. “Don’t let dreams just be dreams. Make it your future.”
The new student
Teagan Knowles / 28
“It was something I wasn’t expecting, and to be handed this kind of opportunity at this time, it’s kind of life-altering,” Traverse City native Teagan Knowles says of the chance to earn her degree.
Although she just started her studies at NMC this spring, Knowles says she’s had “quite an educational journey.” Middle and high school were hard for her, a challenge she now attributes to then-undiagnosed ADHD. She dropped out of Traverse City Central High School to earn her GED in 2012, then later attended college in New York, studying fashion design.
“It wasn’t the right time for me to go to school,” she says. She returned to Michigan and lived downstate. Last fall, she applied to Oakland Community College, thinking about taking a class or two. She found out about the Reconnect scholarship and chose to move back to Traverse City in order to use it at NMC. She’s also saving money by living with her parents.
Now with Reconnect and a Pell grant covering all expenses, plus “a full tool belt” of coping and management techniques for her ADHD, Knowles is eager to return to a classroom for the first time since 2014. She’s keeping her options open in terms of a future career, starting with the basics this summer, like math and English.
“To be able to go back to school and be more confident in my learning skills is really exciting,” she says. “I find myself hungry to learn, almost.”
HOW TO SUCCEED AS AN ADULT STUDENT
Tips from NMC’s Reconnect navigator
Many more students could be poised to transform their lives through Michigan Reconnect. Statewide, about only 20 percent of the 114,000 people who’ve applied to Reconnect have actually enrolled. (NMC has served about 400.)
The state has hired a corps of 10 navigators to help prospective students become registered students. Marsha Tompkins is NMC’s navigator. Here’s Tompkins’ wisdom, from counseling students mostly in their 30s and 40s,but as old as 72:
Ask for help, whether it’s a support service like child care, or a question about class content. Instructors are the go-to for classroom questions. Navigators can help with everything else. “The higher ed system is fraught with lingo and jargon. The navigator role just kind of clears that all out,” Tompkins said. “It’s a person at their side.”
If you’ve earned credits already, even a long time ago, they’re probably still valid, with the exception of some technical areas, like nursing. “A majority of the time they don’t expire,” Tompkins said.
Once enrolled, make an appointment with an academic adviser and create a plan that will lead to your goal. “Making a plan with an adviser maps it all out so they know what’s ahead.” At NMC, students can make advising appointments online: nmc.edu/advising
The MI Bill, in students and dollars:
* PROPOSED BUT NOT YET APPROVED
SOME OF NMC'S 2023 MICHIGAN RECONNECT GRADUATES
Career-specific tuition programs and school-to-work pipelines are available from the state for future police officers and corrections officers.
Michigan’s high school class of 2023 is the latest group of state investment recipients. With the Michigan Achievement scholarship, in-district high school graduates can save nearly half of full-time regular tuition and fees, up to $2,750 per year at NMC. NMC expects up to 300 students to receive Achievement funding this fall, saving them more than $800,000.
Wesley Richardson / 18
Suttons Bay High School class of 2023
As a dual-enrolled NMC student, Richardson already knew that NMC offered great value. Since he started taking NMC classes in his junior year, he expects to start college this fall with 19 credits under his belt, putting him a giant step closer to his plant science associate degree. He will also pursue a fruit and vegetable crop management certificate through NMC’s partnership with Michigan State University.
“Without FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and the Michigan Achievement scholarship I wouldn’t be able to pay for NMC,” said Richardson, who earlier in high school considered enlisting in the military in order to get the education benefits.
His bosses at Cherry Bay Orchards, where he’s worked summers since eighth grade, urged him to get his degree, however. He’s enjoyed his NMC classes, especially macroeconomics with instructor Amjad Khan.
“They definitely are more challenging,” he said of college classes compared to high school. But challenges, like those found in agriculture, attract him.
Besides Michigan Achievement, Richardson was awarded another $1,000 scholarship, and he said the aid will enable him to live on campus, which he’s looking forward to.
“[It’s] a next step kind of thing, a step to becoming an adult, being more independent.”
Katie Koester / 18
Traverse City Central High School class of 2023
NMC is the right place at the right price for Katie Koester.
“Being able to stay close to where I’ve grown up makes me feel more comfortable,” Koester says, who will receive the Michigan Achievement scholarship, among others, when she starts this fall.
Koester began living on her own a few months before graduation, so the scholarship has been a crucial part of her educational plan. “I have basically no money,” she says, “so that’s very helpful.” She’s considering biology at NMC and also a study abroad program, but is mostly looking forward to college as a place to figure things out.
“ I’m excited to be a part of NMC and see where life can take me.”
— Katie Koester
“A smaller community is what I was looking for,” said Koester, who works at the Grand Traverse Butterfly and Bug Zoo in the summer.
“I love bugs,” she says. Transferring to an entomology program may be in the future, but for now, she’s happy to have chosen NMC as her next step.
“It’s going to be fun to push myself and see where I can land in the future. I’m excited to be a part of NMC and see where life can take me.” N
Any student planning to enter any Michigan college can take advantage of College Edge at NMC this summer. The first free five-week session of math and English courses plus student success activities just got underway. A second session runs July 10-Aug. 11. Students who complete Edge will also earn a $1,000 NMC scholarship.