State Rep. Ben Frederick speaks in support of the higher education budgets today before the House voted to advance the spending plans to the Senate.
Measures reduce funding gaps, create more tools for adult learners
State Rep. Ben Frederick today led the House in approving spending plans for the upcoming fiscal year that help the state’s colleges and universities move forward with programmatic changes, learning loss mitigation, improved financial aid offerings, and more robust supports for nontraditional and adult learners.
Frederick, who chairs the House’s budget subcommittee on higher education and community colleges, said a foundational change in the way institutions of higher learning are funded will reduce the disparity between the highest and lowest funded institutions.
“These budgets create greater equality in the funding between institutions while also looking at directives related to acceleration and retention for students in a time of declining enrollment,” said Frederick, of Owosso.
The House’s community college budget utilizes about $155 million in federal COVID relief funding to expand the Michigan Reconnect program, which Frederick authored in 2019 and provides scholarships to adult learners who return to school to earn their first associate degree or skilled trades certification. Previously open to adult learners 25 and older, the budget acknowledges the disruptions caused by the COVID pandemic by temporarily expanding the opportunity to adults as young as 21 while ensuring community colleges that participate in the program make the best use of participants’ prior life experience in granting credit and acceleration opportunities. Short-term training grants will also be made available for industry-recognized offerings which lead to immediate employment and no less than a 20-percent boost in wages.
“I’m particularly excited about the resources in this budget for non-traditional students and adult learners,” Frederick said, noting that he personally was a first-generation adult learner and college graduate. “We’re ensuring today that a student’s prior life experience is honored, and that people’s paths are accelerated to the greatest degree possible, so they can get that employment-relevant credential with minimal or no debt and take the next step in their careers.”
The budget also invests $10 million in one-time federal funding to create the Community College Academic Catch-up Program to address learning loss. It will make grants available to support summer educational programs at community colleges for students entering college during the 2022-23 school year.
Michigan’s public universities will see a $48.1 million increase in operations funding, with the state’s lowest-funded universities receiving the most help. All universities will receive a minimum funding level of $4,672 for each full-time student. To receive state funding, universities must limit any undergraduate tuition rate increases to no more than 4.4 percent and demonstrate both broad acceptance of high-school based dual enrollment credits and several reverse-transfer partnerships with community colleges.
The plan also makes an investment of more than $760 million to help community colleges and universities pay off retirement system debt, which frees up funding to use in other ways.
“This is a transformational change that will set a good foundation for future budgets and free up resources several universities have been using to pay down debt,” Frederick said. “Universities that have been losing students by the thousands will now be able to invest in necessary support services including financial aid, counseling and mental health initiatives to boost success and retention while also creating a more compelling value proposition for students of all ages in pursing further education.”
Frederick said the budget expands several financial aid programs and places an emphasis on earning academic credit through exams. Scholarships awarded through the Michigan Competitive Scholarship program will increase from $1,000 to $1,500 per student, and the Michigan Tuition Grant Program serving students at independent institutions such as Baker College will increase awards from $2,800 to $3,000, with further legislative reform introduced to make the two awards stackable. The Tuition Incentive Program serving high school students is also enhanced with increased options for college credit attainment in the summer semester.
“The updates we’re making on the financial aid side are truly exciting and mean more mobility and choices as students pursue their post-secondary paths with a decreasing debt load,” Frederick said.
A competency-based education incubator project at Grand Valley State University will receive $5.5 million in one-time federal COVID recovery funding to focus on creating and scaling fast-paced, low-cost pathways through which adult learners are able to maximize their prior life experience in moving through their college degree path in employment-ready sectors. GVSU would provide faculty training statewide as part of the initiative to bring the model to students at institutions statewide.
Another $4.7 million in federal COVID recovery funding will go toward an information-sharing collaborative focused on the health-care industry. The program, administered by the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, will help hospitals and health systems communicate their needs and job opportunities with colleges and universities and allow educational institutions to share information on graduates in specified health fields in a fashion which is readily accessible to prospective employees and hiring managers alike.
“There’s an absolute necessity for a more comprehensive understanding of frontline health care credentialing pathways, job availability, and potential career trajectories within institutions like Memorial Healthcare and across our state,” Frederick said.
The budgets on community colleges (House Bill 5779) and higher education (House Bill 5785) were both adopted with bipartisan support and now advance to the Senate for further consideration.
State Rep. Ben Frederick and the Michigan House today approved the state’s school budget for the upcoming fiscal year with an increase in per-pupil funding and a significant new investment in special education programs.
State Reps. Ben Frederick and Sarah Anthony today introduced a bipartisan plan to expand and enhance the Michigan Reconnect program to help address education gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.