PETOSKEY — On Thursday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the creation of a new program that offers tuition-free college to those who provided essential, frontline services during the state’s Stay Home, Stay Safe orders.
This program, dubbed Futures for Frontliners, is the first in the nation to provide free tuition to frontline workers.
“This initiative is Michigan’s way of expressing gratitude to essential workers for protecting public health and keeping our state running,” Whitmer said 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.”
When the Futures for Frontliners program was announced, North Central Michigan College in Petoskey announced it would serve as a Frontliners Champion and support the initiative.
“I loved it. It is such a great opportunity for students or for people who may not have had the opportunity to pursue a degree or to pursue higher education,” said Corey Lansing, director of admission for North Central. “I think it just provides such a great resource to them to further their education.”
There are certain requirements an interested applicant needs to meet in order to be eligible.
According to the state’s press release, applicants must:
- Be a Michigan resident
- Have worked in an essential industry at least part-time for 11 of the 13 weeks between April 1 — June 30, 2020
- Have been required by their job to work outside the home at least some of the time between April 1 — June 30, 2020
- Not have previously earned an associate or bachelor’s degree
- Not be in default on a federal student loan
- Complete a Futures for Frontliners scholarship application by 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2020
David Roland Finley, president of North Central, said eligible applicants cover a wide range of jobs, including medical professions, manufacturing, nursing homes, grocery stores, sanitation, delivery and retail.
“It’s a pretty broad swath,” he said. “Those folks who put it out there and were at risk so others remained safe, that’s really what it’s about. It’s really modeled after the GI Bill, that was the thinking. And the funding source, $24 million, it’s CARES Act money that’s being used to make this happen.”
Lansing added that students do not have to take a full credit load in order to be eligible for this program. The minimum is six credits, which would be around two classes at North Central.
“I think that’s important is they don’t have to be a full-time student, so they can continue to work while going to school,” he said.
Since the program was announced, Finley said he has heard from entities such as Michigan Works!, the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce and McLaren Northern Michigan to get the word out about this opportunity.
“We see it as another very positive impact, again, with respect to providing access,” he said. “It’s a significant pot of money, it is spread across the entire state, but there’s definite need in Northern Michigan and we’re proud to be a part of seeing it happen.”
Interested applicants will need to apply through the state first, Lansing said, and once deemed eligible they can choose North Central as the college they want to attend.
“This program really embodies kind of who we are as a community college,” Lansing said. “We’re about serving our community. This just bolsters the ability for those students to attend this college and achieve what they want to achieve.”
Finley added that he is pleased to be a part of this new initiative.
“It recognizes those who put themselves on the line at a very critical juncture and will allow them to pursue their dreams,” he said. “That’s a really nice reward for having served the members of this community.”