Michigan Reconnect

Ensuring every Michigander has a pathway to a good-paying job


Michigan’s businesses are in need of employees that are better trained and more educated than its current workforce


Keeping a competitive edge through education

Nationwide, Michigan ranks 34th in residents with post-secondary degrees. Approximately 70% of all jobs in Michigan require a degree, which only 40% of Michiganders have received. The state’s lag in educational attainment is an important economic issue at a time when employers are looking for a well-educated workforce to locate and expand businesses.

All Michiganders deserve a pathway to a good-paying job whether they choose to pursue a college degree, technical certificate, or an apprenticeship.

— Gretchen WhitmerMichigan Governor

the challenge

Adults returning to college have unique circumstances, and barriers are holding them back from degree programs

Students considering community college are often motivated to start a new career, stay competitive in the workplace, and continue learning. Despite the attractiveness of returning to school, there are known barriers for adult students – including cost, time, relevance, messaging and program design.


of adult students are parents


are from families at or below the federal poverty level


work full time


are financially independent


are students of color

Our goal was to design an educational program that increases pathways to good-paying jobs for adults in Michigan


Conducting research to understand the needs of adult learners

the research process

Civilla worked to understand the experience of navigating the state’s community colleges as an adult

In partnership with the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, the team talked with adult students to learn about their experiences and priorities. We also interviewed educators to develop a systems-level view. Based on research, Civilla identified the most pressing concerns for adults considering a return to school. These findings guided the state’s design of a new program.

theme 1

Adult students are motivated by a sense of purpose rather than a transaction

Pitching community college solely as an opportunity for a better job or paycheck doesn’t resonate with adult students. Instead, programs need to speak to adult students’ underlying purpose and passions. Adult students who are driven by what they can contribute are more likely to see the relevance and value of continuing their education. To spark interest in a return to college, Michigan must help adult students make a direct connection between their inherent strengths and career pathways where those traits are valued.

It is a big dream to get a degree that helps me prove my skills and do everything I can to serve and help my patients as much as I can.

— SandraMichigan resident

theme 2

Adult students see community college as a team sport

Adults who have a positive experience in community college attribute their success to a support system of friends, neighbors, colleagues, mentors, and family members. Michigan needs to rally the support of informal networks to help adult students feel they are navigating college as part of a team rather than alone.

I want to be able to give my daughter the security and stability I never had as a child. A degree will help me with not just making my life better, but my family's life better as well.

— AleciaMichigan resident

theme 3

Adult students need reassurance that it’s never too late

Adult students have often experienced self-doubt and failed academic experiences in the past. Michigan’s education program for adults should message that any adversity prior to today was just preparation for the road ahead. Adults applying to community college aren’t “behind” and don’t need to “change their life” to succeed. They are in the right place and right on time. In fact, it’s never too late to take a step forward.

I haven't taken a class for 15 years. I don't know how the game is played anymore. I'm worried I'm going to show up and be the only person who has no idea what's going on.

— TreyMichigan resident

theme 4

Adult students need support beyond tuition to succeed

Getting adult students enrolled in community college is a first step. But there are many obstacles that students face in their journey through school: how to complete the application process, choose a program, find child care and transportation, cover new expenses and lost income, and navigate the difficulties of classes. In addition to scholarship funding, Michigan’s education programs need to account for the unique challenges adult students face. Providing accessible assistance will help students succeed.

Every time I tried to get back on track with school, something came out of nowhere and blindsided me. My car broke down which meant I couldn't get to class. I had to find money for child care. The costs just kept growing...

— LaMishaMichigan resident


With the support of Civilla’s research, Michigan passed legislation that provides free community college for adults across the state

securing legislation

Michigan Reconnect was passed into law with strong bipartisan support and funded by the legislature

The program, originally pioneered in Tennessee, provides an opportunity for Michiganders who need more education or different skills to rise in their current workplace or to find better jobs.

By training adults, Reconnect is a path for working Michiganders to up-skill. It will also connect Michigan businesses to qualified candidates for the growing number of jobs that are currently unfilled.

— Gretchen WhitmerMichigan Governor


Civilla's research informed the new Michigan Reconnect program, which focused on three key opportunity areas

  • free tuition+

    Michigan Reconnect pays community college tuition and mandatory fees for all adults in Michigan (over age 25). The program also offers scholarships to help cover the cost of tuition at more than 70 private training schools. Students can choose from 120 programs including manufacturing, construction, information technology, healthcare, and business management.
  • widespread eligibility+

    The program is the largest effort in state history to increase college attainment. It provides free community college tuition to all adults over age 25. 4.1 million of Michigan’s 10 million residents qualify.
  • the end-to-end experience+

    Michigan Reconnect focuses on the full journey for adult students, providing support from application all the way through graduation.
Michigan Reconnect is a big deal. It’s incredible that folks who felt they were blocked out of high education now have an opportunity.

— Ryan Fewins-BlissExecutive Director, Michigan College Access Network


to support implementation, Civilla and the department of labor designed key elements of the Michigan Reconnect program

Application design

Civilla designed a streamlined application for the Michigan Reconnect program

The application is clear and simple to ensure it doesn’t create unintended barriers to access for adults across the state.

program website

Civilla provided guidance for Michigan Reconnect’s website ensuring that it met the needs of adult students

The website is designed to support adults as they walk through the enrollment process step-by-step.

communications strategy

Civilla set the foundation for the program's communication strategy

We onboarded the department's communications team to the research findings. With a people-first strategy, the communications and marketing efforts quickly resonated with adult students statewide.


Michigan Reconnect began accepting applications in Fall 2020. It is the largest effort in state history to increase college attainment

setting a national model

Demand in the inaugural year was higher than expected, resulting in over 160K applications

The program has been lifted up nationally as an example of bipartisan achievement, paving the way for other states to follow.


legislative funding dedicated to support the program


increase in funding for community colleges through bi-partisan legislation


Michiganders eligible for free college tuition


people applied in the program's first year
This bipartisan, forward-thinking commitment to higher education and skills training will make our state stronger and ready for the challenges of the future.

— Dr. Beverly Walker-GriffeaPresident, Mott Community College