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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer launches nation’s first program to offer essential workers tuition-free education at community colleges

Two nursing students practicing taking blood pressure during the previous winter 2020 semester.

By Sabrina Edwards

Michigan became the first state to create the Future For Frontliners program to offer essential workers who have been working through the pandemic a tuition-free education at a community college. There are an estimated 625,000 Michigan citizens who worked through the Stay Home, Stay Safe orders between April and June who could benefit from this.

This was inspired by the GI Bill, which aided in WW2 veterans obtaining a college degree. This program will be offered to not only people in the medical field but also essential workers in manufacturing, nursing homes, grocery stores, sanitation, delivery, retail, and other essential businesses.

“This initiative is Michigan’s way of expressing gratitude to essential workers for protecting public health and keeping our state running,” stated Governor Gretchen Whitmer in a press release. “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.”

Amber Miller, 22-year-old essential employee at a grocery and retail store from Grand Rapids, said this decision is causing her to think about going back to school due to not having to worry about the debt that getting an education can bring.

“It makes me feel appreciated,” said Miller. “I and other essential workers have been risking our lives to keep the shelves full. Working long hours or pulling 10-hour shifts and we don’t get any appreciation from customers or our managers so it’s nice to see some kind of appreciation from others.”

To be eligible for the program, applicants must meet the following, be a Michigan resident, worked in the essential industry at least part time 11 out of the 13 weeks between April 1 and June 30, not have previously earned a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, not be in default on a student loan, and apply before Dec 31. Applicants can apply here.

“We are always happy to assist with helping our community gain education that puts them on a stronger trajectory of prosperity,” said Grand Rapids Community College President Bill Pink. “I am thrilled that the state can engage in this way, and that our college can be a partner. It is a great opportunity for those potential students at our college.”

Students would be eligible to begin classes at GRCC at the start of the winter semester. Potential students would still have to file their FAFSA application. For any additional questions students may have, contact GRCC at futures4frontliners@grcc.edu, call the enrollment and financial aid experts at (616)234-4059, or on the web.