By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer toured the surgical technologist and Automotive Student Service Educational Training programs at Henry Ford College March 14, as part of her budget tour in support of her recent free community college tuition plan.
“I think that there are real paths for people to work — that is prosperity and dignity, and that’s something that’s important, but we’ve got to make sure everyone has an opportunity like this,” Whitmer said. “We have to expand on this, every graduate from here has a job. We’ve got a skills gap in Michigan and these programs are incredibly important to strengthening our economy and we all benefit when we do that.”
During the tour, Whitmer visited students at the ASSET garage, which is in partnership with Ford Motor Co., and Operating Room Simulation lab room for surgical technologists to learn what students learn first-hand.
ASSET program students graduate the program as a certified service technician, have jobs at Ford or Lincoln car dealerships and up to four state of Michigan certifications. They learn basic car theory, electrical systems, breaks, engines, steering, suspensions and more before graduating from the five-semester program.
HFC offers surgical technologist program students with state-of-the-art equipment, an opportunity to earn a degree in a growing job field and hands-on clinical experience working in an operating room, according to the college’s website.
When asked if she could invasion a future where four-year institutions are also tuition free, similar to the community college free tuition plan, Whitmer said she is going to keep working toward that.
“There was a point and time in our state when we had the best skilled work force and we used to make a much greater investment in four-year degrees, so it was affordable for everyone, and that’s something that is important to our economic future,” Whitmer said.
HFC President Russell Kavalhuna said he is proud of the college and one of the things he thinks is really important that he accomplishes is getting other people to go to HFC and see what everyone there is proud of.
“So, it’s extraordinarily beneficial to us to have someone of the governor’s stature here for two reasons,” Kavalhuna said. “One, she is a leader and she’s believing in what we’re believing in which is bridging the skills gap and getting students the opportunity to learn the skills they need for employment in a very quick time.
“Second, someone of her stature coming here brings the light of the rest of the community, frankly the rest of the state, to come look at Henry Ford College and if someone from outside of the college comes and looks at us they’d be impressed.”
Kavalhuna said Whitmer is interested in finding institutions that help students get the skills necessary for meaningful careers, which prompted part of her visit to HFC.
He also added that the college is looking to expand its skilled trade programs and facilities.
“This garage right here is too small and too outdated so we’ve asked the Legislature to fund half of a $15 million building expansion here and they agreed,” Kavalhuna said. “So we’ve got almost $7 million coming from the state to help us expand this and we’re out now trying to raise funds to build the other half of it so that the students here can have bigger space and more modern equipment. We’re planing to design it in the next six months and build it in the next year or year and a half after that.”
During her budget presentation to lawmakers on March 5, Whitmer announced the plan of the state covering tuitions at community colleges in the state for students who graduate college. If approved, the plan could cost between $80 million and $100 million per year and would not go into effect until 2021.
Students who will be eligible for free community college tuition have to graduate from a Michigan high school and live in Michigan for at least a year. According to the plan, college costs would be covered for three years after graduation or 60 credits; have no family income cap; provide the opportunity for a $2,500 scholarship for students going to a four-year school, if eligible; and would cover the reminder of a student’s tuition bill after all financial aid options a student is eligible for are used, including grants.
Whitmer also proposed to establish the Michigan Reconnect program at a $110 million cost covered by the state’s investment fund. Michigan residents 25 or older would be able to enroll in community colleges, union apprenticeships and career certificate programs for free. There would be no income cap and students can pick between attending part-time to full-time.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)