Cardona promotes vaccine, free tuition in Detroit-area visit

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is visiting community colleges in Dearborn and Warren on Tuesday to encourage young people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and to highlight the Biden administration's effort to provide two years of free college.

Cardona's first visit to Michigan included a stop at Henry Ford College, where he toured the college's vaccine clinic and spoke to community members and college leaders. He also traveled to Macomb Community College for a tour with U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township.

Cardona is promoting the Department of Education's COVID-19 College Challenge, aimed at encouraging higher education institutions to take a pledge to work to get their communities vaccinated against the coronavirus. Already, 350 colleges across the country have joined, including nine community colleges, two tribal colleges and Michigan's 15 public universities.

"We know that we have so many folks across the country wanting to do their part to recover from this horrible pandemic," Cardona said during a morning telephone interview with The Detroit News.

"We knew this college challenge would help bring people around the common goal of vaccinating as many people across the country as possible," he added.

The COVID-19 College Challenge is part of a national effort to make June "a month of action" and push the country toward President Joe Biden's goal of 70% of the U.S. adult population receiving at least one vaccine shot by July 4.

First lady Jill Biden and Cardona kicked off the challenge last week on their social media platforms, encouraging institutions of higher education to join the challenge.

"The more students, faculty and staff who get vaccinated, the better the likelihood is of returning to a vibrant campus environment this fall," said Daniel Hurley, CEO of Michigan Association of State Universities.

Hundreds of colleges and universities across the country are mandating that students get the vaccine before returning to campus. In Michigan, some are requiring students who live in residence halls get the vaccine.

Cardona said a mandate should be decided by health and medical experts.

"Safe reopening does require adherence to the mitigation strategies," said Cardona. "We have seen since earlier this year the availability and accessibility to vaccines... that has been a tremendous factor in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and helping our country to get back to pre-pandemic form."

Cardona also is speaking about the proposed $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which includes a $109 billion to provide two years of free community college to all Americans.

Cardona said it has "transformative potential ... not only for students who can take advantage it it but for our country."

Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, notes the thousands of people who signed up recently for free college programs unveiled by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration. More than 120,000 essential workers signed up for Futures for Frontliners program, and 70,000 residents older than 25 who don't have a degree applied for the Michigan Reconnect Program.

“That shows you how much pent-up demand there is for college," said Hansen. "Remove the tuition barrier, it becomes hugely accessible and attractive."

Investing in free college is critical, including on the federal level, Hansen added.

"We believe it will be a game-changer in terms of opportunities for tens of thousands of adults without a college degree who would now have the tuition barrier to a college degree removed," Hansen said.