Free tuition program for frontline workers garners 60,000 applicants

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

A Michigan program offering free tuition for front line workers during the pandemic has garnered 60,000 applicants in the first two weeks, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office announced Tuesday.

Officials announced a series of townhall meetings to answer questions as they called on others to apply to the program, known as Futures for Frontliners. It has been hailed as the nation's first offering a tuition-free path to a college degree or a technical certificate for residents who worked in jobs providing essential services, and do not have a college degree or high school diploma.

A state program offering free tuition to frontline workers in Michigan has attracted 60,000 applicants.

About 625,000 residents in Michigan are eligible for the $24 million program that was inspired by the GI Bill that provided free college tuition to veterans of World War II and beyond.

“This past spring, these brave men and women put their lives on the line every day to ensure we have essential services and products we need to stay healthy and safe," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. "I am truly thrilled to see that so many are taking advantage of this program — they earned it. I encourage every eligible frontline worker to see if this free college scholarship opportunity is right for them.” 

Jeff Donofrio, director of the Department. of Labor and Economic Opportunity, said the state is committed to offering residents an opportunity to access education and skills for better jobs and larger paychecks. Experts say 80% of Michigan’s high-wage jobs require formal beyond high school.

“Good paying jobs and a stronger Michigan economy require more of us to have an education beyond high school," said Donofrio. "The strong interest in Futures for Frontliners shows us that Michiganders are ready to build a brighter, more secure future for themselves and their loved ones."

“With the economic uncertainty that comes with the COVID-19 pandemic and the thousands of high-skilled jobs going unfilled, there’s no better time to add new skills.” 

A series of virtual meetings next month are planned to help answer questions:

** Traverse City/Northern Michigan, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2:30-3:30 p.m. 

** Grand Rapids/West Michigan, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2:30-3:30 p.m. 

** Saginaw/Flint/Bay, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2:30-3:30 p.m. 

** Detroit/Southeast Michigan, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2:30-3:30 p.m. 

** Upper Peninsula, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2:30-3:30 p.m. 

** Lansing/Central Michigan, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2:30-3:30 p.m. 

Whitmer also announced that she appointed Kerry Ebersole, who previously served as the state's Census 2020 executive director, as senior adviser and director of Michigan's Sixty by 30 office, which houses programs working to get 60% of the state's residents a degree by 2030.

Michigan’s college attainment rate is 48.9%, according to data released in 2020 by the Lumina Foundation.

"In order to help Michiganders on their path to learn new skills needed to succeed in high-demand, high-wage careers, and help businesses fill critical talent needs, we need to remain laser focused on key programs and partnerships to meet the Sixty by 30 goal,” Ebersole said. “By ensuring 60% of working-age Michiganders will have an industry recognized certificate or college degree by 2030, we’re making sure our state remains economically competitive and helping businesses grow, all while fueling the future workforce and providing opportunity for all.”