Gov. Gretchen Whitmer today rolled out a $24 million initiative to provide tuition for workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic who lack a secondary education and want to earn an associate’s degree or professional certification.
Likening the initiative to the GI Bill first enacted for World War II veterans, the governor said the Futures for Frontliners program will offer tuition-free access for frontline workers in an essential industry to upgrade their skills. Futures for Frontliners “is a chance for thousands of people to get on a path to a good job that will support themselves and their families,” she said.
“Historically, when Americans put their lives on the line for our country, the betterment of our country, to defend us from a common enemy, a grateful nation has afforded them some educational opportunities to show our gratitude,” Whitmer said this morning in announcing the initiative.
Funding for Futures for Frontliners comes from an emergency education relief fund supported by the federal CARES Act. The program aligns with Gov. Whitmer’s goal to increase the number of working adults in Michigan with a skills certification or two-year college degree from 45 percent to 60 percent by 2030.
The governor estimated that 625,000 workers in Michigan provided essential services during her stay-a-home order this past spring. Scholarships are open to people working in health care, manufacturing, nursing homes, grocery stores, sanitation, delivery, retail and other sectors, Whitmer said.
“We have to work around the clock to ensure that long after this crisis is over that our frontline workers have the support that they need to get ahead in our country — support whether it is dealing with PTSD .… especially those who have been on the front lines caring for people who’ve been battling COVID-19 and people who’ve been showing up and putting their own health on the line to make sure the rest of us can stay safe,” she 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 qualify for the program, a person must:
- Be a Michigan resident
- Worked in an essential industry at least part-time for 11 of the 13 weeks between April 1 and June 30
- Required by their job to work outside the home at least some of the time between April 1 and June 30
- Not have previously earned an associate or bachelor’s degree
- Not be in default on a federal student loan
The state will accept applications for the scholarship until 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31 at www.michigan.gov/Frontliners. All 28 community colleges in the state will accept the scholarship.
Even with the economic recession and high unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for skilled workers in the manufacturing sector remains high, Michigan Manufacturers Association President and CEO John Walsh said. The initiative will “help upscale our workers to meet the needs of the 21st Century economy,” Walsh said.
“One of the things all of our manufacturers are looking for is skilled trades,” he said. “It was a big problem before the pandemic and it has since been exacerbated since the pandemic started.”
In his monthly report this week on the West Michigan industrial economy, economist Brian Long noted that some purchasing managers responding to his August survey reported that “they are again having difficulty finding enough workers, especially workers with specific skills.”