State Launches First-in-Nation Program to Offer Frontline Workers Tuition-Free Path to Community College

Michigan frontline workers who don’t have college degrees or high school diplomas are going to get the chance to go to college, thanks to what Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called a “first in the nation” program offering tuition-free educational opportunities.

Whitmer, along with leaders in education, business, labor and workforce development, Thursday launched the nation’s first program offering tuition-free college to an estimated 625,000 Michiganders who provided essential, frontline services during COVID-19 Stay Home, Stay Safe orders between April and June 2020.

Futures for Frontliners, inspired by the GI Bill which provided college degree to those serving their country in World War II, offers Michigan adults without college degrees or high school diplomas who provided essential services during the pandemic a tuition-free pathway to gaining the skills needed to obtain high-demand, high-wage careers.

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The funding is not only available to those in the medical field, but also essential workers in 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. “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, applicants must:

  • Be a Michigan resident.
  • Have worked in an essential industry at least part-time for 11 of the 13 weeks between April 1 and June 30, 2020.
  • Have been required by their job to work outside the home at least some of the time between April 1 and June 30, 2020.
  • Not have previously earned an associate or bachelor’s degree.
  • Not be in default on a federal student loan.
  • Complete a Futures for Frontliners scholarship application by 11:59 p.m., Dec. 31, 2020.

Frontline workers are encouraged to visit www.michigan.gov/Frontliners to explore career opportunities, a list of local community colleges and get started on their application – even if they don’t already have a high school diploma.

The program is a $24M investment funded by Governor’s Education Emergency Relief (GEER) Fund – part of the CARES Act, and supports the state’s Sixty by 30 goal announced at the Governor’s first state of the state address to increase the number of working-age Michiganders completing an a industry certificate, college degree or apprenticeship.

Whitmer believes a more educated workforce is essential to help businesses grow, make Michigan a more competitive state to attract jobs of the future and help families navigate a changing economy and increase income.

Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio pointed out the “vast majority” of good-paying jobs continue to require at least some education beyond high school.

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“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,” Donofrio said. “For Michigan’s economy to recover and grow, its critical we continue to provide expanded opportunities to all.”

Advocates for additional career training say Futures for Frontliners also helps them off-set training costs and provide another avenue for retention and long-term career growth.

“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. “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.”

Rachel Hurst, corporate affairs manager for Kroger Co. of Michigan, said Kroger, which employs nearly 20,000 frontline associates in Michigan and beyond, said the company is “proud and thankful” for each employee who “stepped up to feed our customers and our communities” during the pandemic.

“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,” Hurst said.

Henry Ford Community College President Russ Kavalhuna said the college is “proud to support” the program. “We believe this program represents a unique, first-of-its-kind opportunity for people who have earned a college education,” Kavalhuna said. “They put themselves at risk to serve Michigan residents during a pandemic. We will put their futures at the forefront now.”