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Detroit man says Michigan Reconnect offers ‘a great second chance’

LEO

Ed Callens had always dreamed of working in the field of technology. 

He was fascinated by computers and had ambitions to seek higher education. In high school, he earned college credits at a local community college, propelling him toward his higher education goals. In 2008 he enrolled in college thanks to a Pell Grant. However, six months into his college career he lost that funding.   

“I had made some bad decisions and was subsequently incarcerated, which at the time made me ineligible for the grants,” Callens says. “All my hopes were down the drain for college.”

He thought that was the end of his education. But then he heard about the Michigan Reconnect program.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined with Republican and Democratic legislators Feb. 2 to announce the launch of the $30 million Michigan Reconnect program, the largest effort in state history to ensure that Michiganders who are 25 or older and do not have a college degree — currently more than 4.1 million people — will have an opportunity to earn a tuition-free associate degree or skills certificate.

Michigan Reconnect will pay the cost of tuition for eligible adults who want to pursue an associate degree or skills certificate at their in-district community college.

The program also offers skills scholarships to help cover the cost of tuition through more than 70 private training schools with 120 programs that offer certificates in high-demand careers in industries such as manufacturing, construction, information technology, health care or business management.

After finding out he was eligible for Reconnect, Callens realized he was given an opportunity to chase his dreams.

“I thought this could be a great second chance to do what I’ve always wanted to do: pursue an education in computer science. Without this program, I didn’t have a shot in the dark,” he said.

“Now that my tuition is paid for, I’ve applied to Wayne County Community College in their computer information systems program. I’m leaving it open for which direction I’ll take it in. Hardware, software, cybersecurity — I find it all equally interesting. I’m a generalist looking for a specialty.”

Callens is working as an IT specialist for the Detroit at Work Career Center. “I’m getting a taste of everything. I have to be able to do everything in this job — it’s a great opportunity to learn. I also teach digital skills to returning citizens through the Center for Employment Opportunities’ NEST training platform. I focus on how to find and apply for jobs in today’s digital world.”

Eligible Michiganders can submit applications at Michigan.gov/Reconnect. The application takes less than five minutes to complete and can be done on a mobile device.

Reconnect scholarships are accepted by all Michigan community colleges and are even available to eligible adults who are already enrolled in their local community college. The program pays the remaining balance of tuition and mandatory fees after other state and federal financial aid have been applied. For those who choose to attend an out-of-district community college, Reconnect will pay the in-district portion of tuition.

The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity is administering Reconnect in partnership with the Michigan Department of Treasury.

To be eligible for Michigan Reconnect, you must:

  • Be at least 25 years old when you apply
  • Have lived in Michigan for a year or more
  • Have a high school diploma
  • Have not yet completed a college degree (associate or bachelor’s)

Eligible Michiganders can submit applications at Michigan.gov/Reconnect.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.
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