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Lessons from Michigan’s free tuition initiatives

November 17, 2022
By: Emily Chesser

Despite the success of Michigan’s numerous initiatives to provide tuition-free college, an analysis from New America exploring Michigan’s effort to increase the affordability and accessibility of higher education found that the fragmented approach reduces the state’s ability to reach all residents needing financial assistance. To make college more affordable and accessible to all Michiganders, the report recommends considering more straightforward free-tuition programs.

One of Michigan’s first tuition-free initiatives was Michigan Reconnect, which provides free tuition at in-district community colleges for residents over 25. According to data from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity cited by New America, the Michigan Reconnect program provided nearly 19,700 residents with free community college. A second program, Futures for Frontlines, was created to help essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic afford community college. This program helped 26,000 Michigan residents access community college. The most recent program, the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, provides up to $5,500 for a student each year at any public university or college in Michigan. The state plans to spend about $560 million annually on this program.

Despite Michigan’s investing in these tuition-free initiatives, the programs often feature requirements that limit their scope, according to the study. For instance, to qualify for the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, students must have an Expected Family Contribution (ERC) of less than $25,000. ERC refers to the amount of money the student’s family is expected to contribute and is calculated through the federal aid program. Additionally, the age requirement in the Michigan Reconnect program limits the number of residents given aid.

To increase the scope of Michigan’s free-tuition initiatives, New America recommends removing the age restriction on the Michigan Reconnect program and expanding first-dollar scholarship programs.

Michiganfree tuition, higher ed