625,000 essential workers in Michigan eligible for free college: What to know
The program is a $24 million investment funded by Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund, part of the federal CARES Act
By David Jesse
Detroit Free Press
About 625,000 essential workers in Michigan who put in time during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown and don't have a degree are eligible for free college under a plan detailed Thursday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Futures for Frontliners, inspired by the G.I. Bill that provided college education to those serving their country in WWII, was initially announced by Whitmer in April. The governor provided more detail Thursday. The free college is currently limited to community colleges.
The plan isn't limited to those in medical fields. It also covers people who worked in places such as manufacturing, nursing homes, grocery stores, sanitation, delivery, retail and more.
“This initiative is Michigan’s way of expressing gratitude to essential workers for protecting public health and keeping our state running,” Whitmer said in a statement prior to a news conference. “Whether it was stocking shelves, delivering supplies, picking up trash, manufacturing PPE or providing medical care, you were there for us. Now this is your chance to pursue the degree or training you’ve been dreaming about to help you and your own family succeed.”
To be eligible for the program, an applicant must:
- Be a Michigan resident
- Have worked in an essential industry at least part-time for 11 of the 13 weeks between April 1 -- June 30
- Have been required to work outside the home at least some of the time between April 1 -- June 30
- Not have previously earned an associate or bachelor’s degree
- Not be in default on a federal student loan
Frontline workers can visit www.michigan.gov/Frontliners to explore career opportunities, a list of local community colleges and to get started on their application. Applications are due by 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31.
The site notes that "if you enroll and attend your local, in-district community college, you’ll be able to get your degree tuition-free. That means you won’t pay any tuition, contact hours, or mandatory fees out of pocket."
The program is a $24 million investment funded by Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund -- part of the federal CARES Act.
“The vast majority of good paying jobs continue to require at least some education beyond high school,” said Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio. “Futures for Frontliners gives those who helped save lives and kept our communities operating during the height of COVID an opportunity to increase their skills and income and helps us close the state’s skills gap. For Michigan’s economy to recover and grow, it's critical we continue to provide expanded opportunities to all.”
Several industries said the program is a welcome boost.
“Michigan manufacturers have been on the front lines in defense against the COVID-19 threat, creating essential products necessary for daily life; from food and pharmaceuticals, to transportation and even toilet paper,” said John Walsh, president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, in a statement. “The Futures for Frontliners program will recognize these truly-deserving heroes, investing in their personal future as well as the economic future of our state.”
Those sentiments were echoed by others.
“As an employer of nearly 20,000 frontline associates here in Michigan and beyond, we are proud and thankful for each of our employees who stepped up to feed our customers and our communities during the pandemic,” Rachel Hurst, corporate affairs manager for the Kroger Co. of Michigan, said in a statement. “We’re excited for them to have this hard-earned opportunity to continue their education with support from the Futures for Frontliners program, which pairs well with our Feed Your Future program.”
Colleges also welcomed the program.
“Henry Ford College and I, personally, are proud to support the Futures for Frontliners program, and to partner with the State of Michigan and other public and private partners to help frontline workers create a better future,” said Russ Kavalhuna, Henry Ford College president, in a statement. “We believe this program represents a unique, first-of-its-kind opportunity for people who have earned a college education. They put themselves at risk to serve Michigan residents during a pandemic. We will put their futures at the forefront now.”
Whitmer has been working to increase the percentage of Michigan adults who have some sort of post-high school credential or degree, from 45% to 60%, by 2030.
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