This story has been updated to correct the proportion of tuition paid by the program for participating students who do not live in a community college district.
In the spring of 2020, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the Futures for Frontliners program to thank essential workers, but the program could also prove to be an economic asset for affected communities.
The program gives skilled essential workers the opportunity to attend community colleges without tuition, according to Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association.
Hansen said the candidates “must have worked in one of the predetermined industries that the governor and his team considered to be frontline workers.” There is no minimum or maximum age to participate.
Students must be front-line workers who worked in the field between April 1 and June 30, 2020, for 11 of the 13 weeks, said Debra Alexander, Dean of Students and Enrollment Services at Montcalm Community College.
Applicants must be Michigan residents who were required to work outside their home at least part of the time during the pandemic, and they cannot already have an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, Alexander said.
Many health care workers were considered frontline workers, as well as sanitation and grocery store workers, according to Hansen.
Applicants must live in a community college district to receive full cost coverage. According to Hansen, around 80% of applicants live in such neighborhoods.
For the remaining 20%, the program covers the intra-district tariff while students are responsible for paying the difference between the intra-district and non-district tariffs.
The deadline to apply was December 31, so many Futures for Frontliners registrants started their classes at the start of the 2021 spring semester, according to Hansen.
The Futures for Frontliners website said more than 100,000 essential workers have applied for the program.
âMany of the early applicants and registrants were already enrolled in college,â said Hansen. However, essential workers who were not previously registered were also admitted to the program.
According to Hansen, although the program only funds two-year degrees, many higher-paying jobs in fields where many essential workers were already employed require associate’s degrees.
Paul Isely, associate dean of undergraduate programs at Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University, said acquiring an associate’s degree can have a positive economic impact.
âThe more educated people are, the greater an individual’s economic output,â Isely said.
“The difference between a high school graduate and someone with an associate’s degree in the United States is just under $ 100 a week, and the difference between a [bachelorâs degree] and a high school diploma costs over $ 450 a week, so we know as education increases, income increases, âhe said.
According to Isely, the economic benefits of the program will extend to the community.
âThe salary increase alone will have a huge impact very quickly,â Isely said.
Isely said about 82,000 students have already been approved statewide, and there will likely be around 100,000 once all applications are reviewed.
“So if about 100,000 people could take advantage of it, if they got an associate’s degree, they would collectively make about $ 650 million a year,” Isely said.
Isely said $ 650 million would flow back to the community because “people with higher incomes don’t need as much public support for food, clothing and shelter”.
The benefits of the program have attracted many frontline workers and increased enrollment at community colleges like Montcalm Community College and Grand Rapids Community College.
âAs of Jan. 5, Montcalm Community College had 96 new students enrolled for the spring semester, 83 re-enrolled and 169 existing students who received future funding,â said Alexander. Many of the participants are in nursing programs.
At Grand Rapids Community College, new and existing students benefit from the funding.
According to Dave Murray, its communications director, the program has accepted nearly 3,000 applicants to Grand Rapids Community College courses.
âAt this point, at least 1,600 students have enrolled in winter semester courses, and the rest may enroll in upcoming summer or fall semesters,â Murray said.
Isely also predicted that the program will inspire companies to invest in Michigan communities.
âThe increase in economic output now means you have businesses that want to locate in Michigan that would not have wanted to locate here before,â Isely said. âWe will have the talent they need. “
âThe cost of a community college is around $ 5,000 per year, so getting an associate’s degree would cost around $ 10,000,â Isely said. âSpending that money in Michigan allows us to get that money back in about a year and a half, and then it continues after that. “
Although the deadline to apply for the Futures for Frontliners program has passed, applications for the Michigan Reconnect program, which provides similar funding to frontline workers over 25, are now open.
Provided to City Pulse by Capital Information Service.