GRAND RAPIDS — West Michigan workforce development leaders say Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest budget proposal should include a greater focus on short-term training programs and community organizations currently excluded from state-funded talent initiatives.
The leaders spoke today during a roundtable at Grand Rapids Community College that featured Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Susan Corbin. The roundtable was among a series of events scheduled across the state for local leaders to weigh in on Whitmer’s budget proposal.
The Democratic-led Legislature hopes to have a budget finalized by June, Corbin said.
Most roundtable participants generally praised proposed funding for housing, expanding child care and talent development programs. However, several leaders said more money should be allocated for community organizations focused on talent development but that are currently ineligible for funding through programs like Michigan Reconnect.
Launched in early 2021, Michigan Reconnect provides free community college to adults at least 25 years old who return to school for an associate’s degree or eligible certificate. More than 114,000 applicants have been accepted through the Michigan Reconnect program since it launched. Approximately 24,000 students have enrolled at community colleges through the program, and 2,000 students have earned a credential so far, according to state officials.
Whitmer’s latest budget would allocate $140 million in the form of a fiscal year 2023 supplemental to expand the Reconnect program by lowering the minimum age to 21 years old. Whitmer’s budget also calls for $65.2 million to continue the program.
Michigan Reconnect is a last-dollar program, which means it first applies all of a student’s federal Pell Grants, then covers the rest of tuition for eligible students. Training programs that are ineligible for federal Pell Grant funding — such as programs offered at the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT) — also are ineligible for Michigan Reconnect dollars.
“One of the things we’ll be advocating for statewide is increased investments in training that could be Pell eligible,” said Jacob Maas, CEO of West Michigan Works!. “But in most cases, we just don’t have enough funding to support programs (like WMCAT). Michigan Reconnect is a great program and a great start, but there are two ways to attack it: investments through the state and hopefully some American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars, or Pell expansion.”
Meanwhile, Grand Rapids Community College offers a variety of short-term training programs that do not qualify for Michigan Reconnect funding, according to GRCC officials.
“We need more funding for short-term training programs,” Maas said. “They result in good jobs, and there are good wages that come from it.”
GRCC offers short-term training programs in a variety of high-demand fields, including technology, manufacturing, construction and energy, said Julie Parks, GRCC’s executive director of workforce training.
GRCC also needs more resources to be competitive in hiring professors for new programs in automation, Parks said.
“We have wonderful programs, but we don’t always have that talent here that we need,” Parks said. “If we want Michigan to be the leader, we need training dollars for our faculty to help us train or find instructors for these new programs.”