Area colleges support tuition-free college for frontline workers

DOWAGIAC — More than 625,000 of Michigan’s essential and frontline workers will have the opportunity to attend community college tuition-free.

In a press release Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Futures for Frontliners, the nation’s first program offering tuition-free community college to Michiganders who provided essential, frontline services during COVID-19 Stay Home, Stay Safe orders.

According to the press release, Futures for Frontliners was inspired by the GI Bill, which provided college degrees to those serving their country in World War II. The program will offer a tuition-free pathway to gaining the skills needed to obtain high-demand, high-wage careers.

On average, workers with a two-year degree earn $7,500 more annually than workers without one. Seventy-five percent of Michigan jobs require education beyond high school. Lake Michigan College President Trevor A. Kubatzke and Southwestern Michigan College President Joe Odenwald hope prospective students take advantage of the program.

“This is a terrific opportunity for current and former LMC students who haven’t yet completed their degrees,” Kubatzke said. “Many of them worked during the state shutdown, putting their health on the line to keep our community going. They’re heroes and deserve every chance to pursue their dreams.”

“I think that students will utilize this,” said Southwestern Michigan College President Joe Odenwald. “This program is going to help people see how affordable community college is, and I think this program will allow people to see the difference an associate’s degree can make and how much it can improve their economic circumstances.”

Essential workers in Michigan without a college degree or high school equivalency who worked at least half-time in 11 of 13 weeks from April 1 to June 30 are eligible for the program. Applications are currently being accepted through Dec. 31.

The program is a $24 million investment funded by the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund, which is part of the CARES Act. The funding is available to essential workers in fields including medical, 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.”

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