Whitmer touts ‘a path for everyone to prosperity’ in GRCC visit

Sees community colleges as key to workforce development

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visits the GRCC M-TEC facility to meet with students and staff

There’s an opportunity for everyone to be prosperous in Michigan. So said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during a visit to Grand Rapids Community College.

Fresh off delivering her first State of the State address, Whitmer connected GRCC’s programs and community outreach to three proposed plans aimed to help students and workers land in in-demand jobs and careers.

“The great work that’s happening here, we need to replicate; we need to expand upon; we need to support,” Whitmer said while presenting at the Leslie E. Tassell M-TEC facility, where workforce training and certification programs are housed.

“There is a path for everyone to prosperity. There is a path to a great life for everyone here in Michigan,” the newly elected Democratic governor said. “Everyone in this state needs the supports to navigate the path that’s right for them and to make good money.”

While at the M-TEC center, Whitmer visited with students and instructors in the automotive, welding and virtual welding labs. She said the idea that a four-year degree is the only path to success has done a disservice to students.

“You can make a good living in Michigan with a community college training. You can make a good living in Michigan in a trade,” she said.

GRCC President Bill Pink welcomes Whitmer

Proposed Programs Promise Benefits

GRCC students could benefit under Whitmer’s proposed programs, announced during the State of the State address:

  • Michigan Reconnect, modeled after a similar program in Tennessee,  would help workers “up-skill” for industry certifications and associate degrees. Whitmer’s goal is to increase the percentage of Michiganders ages 16 to 64 with post-secondary credentials from 44 percent to 60 percent by 2030.
  • MI Opportunity Scholarship offers two paths to help graduating high school students obtain postsecondary credentials. Path I would provide two years of debt-free community college beginning in fall 2020. Path II would provide two years of tuition assistance at a four-year, not-for-profit college or university for students who graduate from a Michigan high school with at least a B average.

She said investing in education provides a “light at the end of the tunnel” that ripples through communities. “When you create those paths, you change behavior in sectors you don’t anticipate because people want to make sure that we all capitalize on this opportunity.”

GRCC President Bill Pink said Whitmer’s ideas are exciting for the students they serve and will attract others. “We will also see interest by some folks who have not normally come to us … on their way to a job or a bachelor’s degree,” Pink said.

Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Caniff said he’s excited about Whitmer’s vision, though the challenge will be finding revenue streams to make it reality. “There is certainly so much to like,” he said.

Partnerships with GRCC and local districts include dual enrollment and Middle College programs, for which students earn college credits in high school. “Those fit in perfectly what she’s trying to achieve relative to students earning post-secondary credentials,” Caniff said.

‘You can make a good living in Michigan with a community college training.’ — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Also aligning well with Whitmer’s vision, he said, are partnerships with local employers and with Talent 2025, a consortium  of area CEOs working to ensure an ongoing supply of world-class talent for West Michigan. “I think it dovetails wonderfully with the work we’ve been engaged in … to find ways we can get students those post-secondary credentials,” Caniff said.

Cholonni Madison, who earned certification through the GRCC Public Works Academy, says he’s excited about opportunities for others through GRCC

A Grad’s Perspective

Cholonni Madison earned his certification from the GRCC Public Works Academy last June after returning from California to his hometown of Grand Rapids. He now works for the City of Grand Rapids Water Department as a utility aide, with plans to work toward other positions.

“The GRCC program really helped me and motivated me to do better,” Madison said. “At the light at the end of the tunnel there’s opportunity.”

Madison, a 2007 Grand Rapids Central High School graduate, said he believes Whitmer’s proposed programs will attract others. He shared his story with her.

“It makes me feel good to encourage others to take part in these programs through M-TEC and GRCC,” he said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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