By BRANDY MUZ
Capital News Service
LANSING – Community colleges in Michigan are making moves to improve educational opportunities for their adult students.
Brandy Johnson, the president of the Michigan Community College Association, said the Michigan Reconnect program has helped students above 25 years old get through school.
Michigan Reconnect gives free or discounted tuition to adult learners to earn an associate degree or certificate.
Johnson said it is easy to apply for the program.
“Doing the application on your phone, it asks certain questions, which are the eligibility questions, and you hit submit and immediately what comes up is, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been admitted to Reconnect,’” she said.
The eligibility requirements are minimal, Johnson said.
“Be 25, have a high school diploma, live in Michigan for at least a year, want to pursue a certificate or degree, and that’s basically it,” she said.
Tim Hood, the president of Mid Michigan College in Harrison, said that Michigan Reconnect has helped adult learners go back to school.
“Without this funding opportunity and without the program, in many cases it made the difference between whether they were able to either return to college or come to college for the first time,” he said.
Hood said that there is a focus on assisting students individually to keep them in school. The college has dedicated counselors to help with applications, enrollment and general questions.
“We’ve got you in the door. We’ve got you registered and you’re in the class. Then come challenges and potential obstacles that need to be somehow navigated,” Hood said.
A common hurdle for adult learners is having enough time for education.
“Most adults have lives that have gotten more complex and complicated than our younger students,” Hood said. “Many of these individuals are supporting themselves and/or their families.”
Mid Michigan College recently completed a master plan for the future that includes child care for its students’ kids.
“We know there are many who have issues with child care, so we’re always looking for what could happen in that area. It requires space and resources,” Hood said.
Connie Stewart, the interim president of Montcalm Community College in Greenville and Sidney, said there has been a decline in adult learners at her institution. Economic issues and the COVID-19 pandemic brought enrollment numbers down.
“We try to reach out to people, and we have a great industrial program. We’re pulling in industrial folks who are either completing goals of their company or following apprenticeship programs.”
“Those would be the greater portion of our adult students,” Stewart said.
Stewart said going back to school as an adult is good for students’ economic future.
“I’m an adult learner. When I came to Montcalm Community College, I was a mother of two with a full-time job working 40 hours a week. It took me five years to complete my associate degree,” said Stewart, who went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“It helps lay a foundation and helps to provide that path to economic prosperity,” she said.
Johnson said there’s always room for improvement in access to affordable education for older students.
“You still have to pay for books and parking and all the other non-tuition costs of attendance. We need to do a better job of helping students complete the FAFSA,” she said, referring to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
“That is our chokepoint for getting reconnected, to convert from an applicant to an enrolled” student, she said of the application form.