Global Detroit Blog

Unlocking Potential: Strengthening Immigrant-Inclusive Practices at Michigan’s Community Colleges


Michigan, a state known for its industrious spirit, is quietly becoming the national leader in building immigrant-inclusive strategies and programs to bolster its economic and workforce development sectors. Immigrant inclusion is essential, as all of Michigan’s net population growth for the last 30 years has been driven by immigrants.

Immigrant inclusive economic development strategies foster equity and inclusion and make sound economic sense. 

The Michigan Legislature (both the 2022 Legislature under Republican control and the 2023 Legislature under Democratic control) worked with Governor Gretchen Whitmer to fund the Michigan Global Talent Initiative (MGTI), a comprehensive immigrant inclusion strategy supporting Governor Whitmer’s Sixty by 30 program (60 percent of the workforce possessing an associates or college degree or professional credential by 2030). 

MGTI includes seven economic development strategies designed to create an inclusive economic ecosystem that benefits all residents and adds 100,000 to 125,000 additional foreign-born workers to the Michigan workforce, constituting 20 to 25 percent of the Sixty by 30 program goals.

MGTI’s Community College Work

Community colleges are a critical part of the workforce system, and thus play an important role in the MGTI’s immigrant inclusion programs, similar to the prominent role they have played in other Sixty by 30 programs, such as Michigan Reconnect and Futures from Frontliners. MGTI’s community college program aims to position Michigan community colleges as the national leaders in building immigrant-inclusive policies, practices and programs.

According to a recent study by the Immigrant Research Initiative, Michigan League for Public Policy and Global Detroit, there are 300,000 children from immigrant families residing in the state, representing a dynamic force in the state’s future. Among these youth, over 70,000 are currently in high school, including around 17,000 in each of the next four years’ graduating classes. Similar to the general population, this population of students is geographically concentrated: findings show that half of all Michiganders live in a county where more than 20 percent of high school students are from an immigrant family. Supporting this growing population will help ensure that our future workforce is dynamic and prepared to solve future challenges.

The same study also shows that students from immigrant families in Michigan are nearly three times as likely to have a parent with less than a high school degree. The Migration Policy Institute has documented that parents’ educational background is more predictive of a student’s success in higher education than their parents’ level of English proficiency (and more than 90 percent of these students from immigrant families speak English very well). Better understanding of the educational disparities experienced by immigrant students can be achieved through more targeted research, but should be addressed through intentional, system-level investments in these students’ success, including addressing the unique barriers they may face.

The Immigrant Student Success Grant: Supporting Local Approaches and Best Practices

The Michigan Global Talent Initiative, staffed by Global Detroit, in collaboration with the Office of Sixty by 30 and the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN), recently awarded $1.5 million in Adult Student and Immigrant Student Success Grants. Designed to increase enrollment, retention, and program completion rates for immigrant, refugee, and first-generation students, the Immigrant Student Success Grants provided grants up to $150,000 to six community colleges across the state. These colleges are: Mott Community College, Grand Rapids Community College, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Muskegon Community College, Monroe County Community College, and Schoolcraft College. 

The colleges will use grant funds to implement innovative strategies that foster inclusive learning environments. Some will use funding to assess the immigrant student populations in their district and identify the barriers they face. Others will create and strengthen ethnic community partnerships, pilot accelerated English language workshops, and improve transportation access on campus. These initiatives will not only diversify Michigan’s educational landscape, but also highlight the wide range of creative approaches that can be implemented with targeted dollars. 

We believe that the $500,000 investment in the Immigrant Student Success Grants makes Michigan the first state to invest dollars and technical assistance in building more inclusive community college programs for immigrant, refugee, and first-generation students.

The Immigrant Student Success Learning Cohort: Fostering Knowledge and Collaboration

To complement the Immigrant Student Success Grants, MGTI has engaged World Education Services (WES) Global Talent Bridge to host an Immigrant Student Success Learning Cohort. This opportunity is open to all community colleges and practitioners in the state that are interested in better supporting immigrant students. The year-long program offers community colleges the opportunity to deepen their understanding of local immigrant populations and their needs. By sharing best practices and fostering a sense of community among professionals leading this work, the cohort aims to create an environment conducive to the success of immigrant students. This collaborative approach not only enriches educational experiences but also strengthens the ties between immigrant communities and Michigan’s economic landscape.

Statewide Dollars, Statewide Impact

The study on immigrant high school students, Immigrant Student Success Grants, and Immigrant Student Success Learning Cohort are part of a pivotal shift towards a more inclusive and economically robust Michigan. Through the Michigan Global Talent Initiative, Michigan’s investment in immigrant-inclusive education is not just an affirmation of diversity, but a future-oriented investment in the state’s economic prosperity. In fact, we believe that Michigan is leading the nation as the first state to invest in immigrant students’ success in community colleges, in addition to being the first state to offer an expert-led community college learning cohort. Through targeted support and strategic initiatives that support immigrant, refugee and first-generation students, the state is positioning itself as a leader in innovation, diversity, and economic growth. By investing state dollars in local initiatives across the state that support immigrant inclusion, Michigan is not only recognizing and expanding the potential within immigrant communities, but also bolstering the state’s economic and workforce development efforts. These programs are a testament to the belief that everyone, regardless of their background, deserves an equal opportunity to succeed and contribute to the prosperity of the state.

By Shanea Condon, Global Detroit’s Michigan Global Talent Initiative (MGTI) Operations Manager