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Governor Gretchen Whitmer Proposes Universal Free Preschool and Community College in Michigan

Gretchen Whitmer

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is set to propose universal free preschool and community college for all high school graduates in the state. This ambitious plan, to be detailed in her upcoming State of the State address, aims to boost educational attainment and attract more residents to Michigan, according to The Detroit News.

Under the current state budget, funding for Great Start, Michigan’s early childhood program, increased by $90 million, about 20%, with eligibility now extended to families earning up to 300% of the federal poverty guideline. For a family of four, this equates to approximately $90,000 in 2023. While the cost of implementing universal preschool remains unclear, approximately 118,000 4-year-olds in Michigan would be eligible, though past trends suggest not all will enroll.

This initiative places Michigan alongside sixteen other states, including Florida, Illinois, and Wisconsin, plus the District of Columbia, that offer universal, taxpayer-funded preschool. Moreover, at least half of all states have some form of tuition-free college, per the Campaign for Free College Tuition.

Whitmer’s administration views these educational initiatives as not only a means to enhance learning but also as key drivers in spurring population growth. Michigan, which has experienced one of the slowest population growth rates in the U.S. since 2000, is focusing on reversing this trend. The state recorded its fewest live births in 2022 since 1940, highlighting the need for innovative strategies to attract new residents.

Michigan House Minority Leader Matt Hall criticized Whitmer for lacking a bold economic growth strategy. In response, Whitmer’s team emphasized the importance of increasing the percentage of young people with post-secondary credentials, particularly bachelor’s degrees, to compete globally and attract high-wage, knowledge-based companies.

The proposed universal free community college would expand on existing programs like Michigan Reconnect and the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, removing financial barriers for all high school graduates. The Michigan Community College Association supports this approach, seeing it as a clear, accessible opportunity for education.

With Michigan community colleges serving over 271,000 students in the 2021-22 academic year, the new proposal is expected to be cost-effective, given the existing financial assistance for students. Whitmer’s goal is to increase the percentage of working-age adults with a skill certificate or college degree to 60% by 2030, up from the current 51%.

Whitmer described the community college proposal as a “game-changer” on social media, highlighting an average savings of $4,000 for participants. The State of the State speech, where more details will be unveiled, will be broadcast live on public television and streamed online.