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Education

Michigan Thanks Essential Workers With Free Tuition Program

Essential workers testimonial saying, "Free tuition will set me free. I deserve a better quality of life and to be seen as who I am today insteadof being reminded of my past failures. I am ready to start my own business."
Michigan Futures For Frontlines Program
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People who worked in essential industries during the state’s COVID-19 shutdown between April 1st and June 30th are eligible for the program.";

The state says more than 80,000 essential workers have applied for a free tuition program.

It’s called Futures for Frontliners, and it provides scholarships for people who worked in essential industries during the state’s COVID-19 shutdown between April 1st and June 30th.

Kerry Ebersole is with the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

WKAR’s Sophia Saliby spoke with her about the program.

Interview Highlights

On How The Program Works

We've made it as simple as possible or we attempted to. We want you to go to our website to apply. You select which path you want to go, community college [or] high school diploma. You select that path. You fill out an application. We verify your employment data, because again, this is for essential workers. This was one piece we're able to say "thank you" to these folks that helped to put groceries on our table and make sure that we were able to take care of our bare needs during the early time in the pandemic. So, once you complete that application, then you move forward and you apply to your local community college and enroll in classes.

On What They’ve Heard From Essential Workers About the Program

People not only want to pursue an educational attainment to, you know, hopefully lead to higher wages and in-demand careers, but it's also fulfilling dreams. Many of the stories we've collected through applicants talk about wanting to be a role model for their children. We've had a single mother from Saginaw who talked about that this was important for her to pursue, that even at the age of 45, it's not too late.

On The State’s Goal To Ensure 60% Of Working-Age Michiganders Have A Certificate Or College Degree By 2030

It plays into the needs of our business community here enabling them to be competitive over time. So, this goal really is, one, not only offering folks a pathway for opportunity and a more prosperous life, but it's also mobilizing our business community to be competitive in today's economy and tomorrow's.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby. The state says more than 80,000 essential workers have applied for a free tuition program.

It’s called Futures for Frontliners, and it provides scholarships for people who worked in essential industries during the state’s COVID-19 shutdown between April 1st and June 30th.

Kerry Ebersole is with the state’s Department for Labor and Economic Opportunity. Thanks for being here.

Kerry Ebersole: Happy to be here.

Saliby: Can you explain a little more about how this program, Futures For Frontliners, works?

Ebersole: This program is a tuition-free pathway for folks to go back to school if they have not yet completed their degree. We have two paths. We refer to one that you can pursue [as a] community college, associate's degree or certificate training or if you have yet to complete your high school diploma, there is a pathway for you to do so.

We've made it as simple as possible or we attempted to. We want you to go to our website to apply. You select which path you want to go, community college [or] high school diploma. You select that path. You fill out an application. We verify your employment data, because again, this is for essential workers.

This was one piece we're able to say "thank you" to these folks that helped to put groceries on our table and make sure that we were able to take care of our bare needs during the early time in the pandemic. So, once you complete that application, then you move forward and you apply to your local community college and enroll in classes. So, we've tried to make it, again, as simple as possible for folks to move forward for this tuition-free opportunity.

Saliby: The program launched in September. Did you expect to see 85,000 applications?

Ebersole: We estimated that there could be about 625,000 Michiganders that could qualify for this. Seeing 85,000 only confirms that there is big demand. People not only want to pursue an educational attainment to, you know, hopefully lead to higher wages and in-demand careers, but it's also fulfilling dreams.

Many of the stories we've collected through applicants talk about wanting to be a role model for their children.

Many of the stories we've collected through applicants talk about wanting to be a role model for their children. We've had a single mother from Saginaw who talked about that this was important for her to pursue, that even at the age of 45, it's not too late.

So, I think that this is really exciting, and a need not only for individuals, but we have to talk about our businesses too. Because businesses have a number of jobs that go unfilled every year because they don't have access to the skilled, trained worker they need to fill those jobs.

Saliby: The pandemic is still going on. Is the state considering extending those eligibility dates for essential workers?

Ebersole: The reason why we were able to launch this program when we did is we were able to do it with federal dollars made available through the CARES Act. Due to us mobilizing those dollars, we have to have applications in by the end of December.

And again because of what we're seeing, demand-wise, I think we're on course to stay with the program as designed. But [here is] a little teaser out there. There will be a future launch of a program that got funded through state dollars that just got completed in this last budget late September, that we will look to launch early next year.

Saliby: And that would be maybe another free tuition program for a different set of workers in Michigan?

Ebersole: Yes, we will be launching a program, again, very similar, giving access to community college tuition-free for those 25 and older.

Saliby: You also head up the state's Sixty By 30 initiative which aims to ensure 60% of working age Michiganders have an industry-recognized certificate or college degree by 2030. How does this program tie into that goal?

Ebersole: So, the governor put forth this goal of achieving 60% of our working population to receive post-secondary certificates or credentials by 2030. And the reason for that is the data is pretty clear as it relates to tying educational attainment to higher wages, as well as, as I mentioned earlier, it plays into the needs of our business community here enabling them to be competitive over time.

It's also mobilizing our business community to be competitive in today's economy and tomorrow's.

So, this goal really is, one, not only offering folks a pathway for opportunity and a more prosperous life, but it's also mobilizing our business community to be competitive in today's economy and tomorrow's.

Saliby: Kerry Ebersole is with the state's Department for Labor and Economic Opportunity. Thank you for joining me. 

Ebersole: Thank you very much.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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