Politicians don’t seem to need evidence of success to declare a program a success. Gov. Whitmer has publicly claimed that two college scholarship programs “are working” and helping create “rewarding paths to those high-wage, high-demand careers.”
The governor cites no data to support that assertion. And there seem to be no data to cite. Like many government programs, Futures for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect are long on upfront promises but short on both assessment and follow-through.
Through these two scholarship programs, certain groups of students can get most or all their community college tuition paid for by the state. Whitmer signed Futures for Frontliners in 2020, aiming the program at Michigan residents who worked in certain industries during the pandemic. Michigan Reconnect expands tuition-free community college to any resident who is 25 or older and doesn’t have a degree. The program has been operating since February 2021.
The state has barely released any data since these two programs began, and the information it has released publicly is wholly inadequate to support claims about the programs’ success.
The Mackinac Center requested more information from the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity and learned that more than 199,000 people have applied for the scholarships. Of these applicants, 50,000 people enrolled in community college in at least one semester. About 6,725 recipients have graduated with a certificate or degree. Some 14,600 were taking classes as of this year’s spring session.
It would be good to see if the people receiving tuition subsidies get good-paying jobs after graduating – as Whitmer and other government officials have claimed.
But there’s very little evidence that this is happening.
The state doesn’t have information about post-graduation jobs and earnings because no one at the state level is collecting those data. Yet policymakers are already eager to expand eligibility for these programs.
The people handing out taxpayer cash for college degrees should be interested in tracking the results, but they’re not. Legislators ought to be careful with handing out taxpayer funding for college, especially when its sponsors and administrators show little curiosity about whether it produces good outcomes.
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