Michigan launches new plan offering free college to 625,000 essential workers

More than half-a-million Michigan workers who provided essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic have the opportunity to go to college without paying tuition. 

The Future for Frontliners program, a modern-day version of the GI Bill that welcomed home veterans of World War II, would pay for the higher education of 625,000 residents that served in an array of professions that aided the state through the early months of the virus's outbreak in the state.

The new program isn't just available to those in the medical field, however. Residents employed in manufacturing, nursing homes, grocery stores, sanitation, delivery, and retail are all eligible for the program.


First announced in late April, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer followed up the plan with the program's unveiling during a press conference Thursday morning. 

“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 statement.

She was joined by education, labor, business, workforce, and political leaders to make the announcement.

"It has been six months since Michigan recorded its first COVID-19 case. In those early days we realized just how many unsung heroes we have in our communities," said Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. "The Future for Frontliners is a national model, a first-of-its-kind down payment on our debt of gratitude to these brave men and women who stayed on the frontlines during the early days of the pandemic."

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To be eligible for the program, applicants will have to meet the following criteria:

  • 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., Dec. 31, 2020 

Funding for the program draws on a $24 million investment from the Governor's Education Emergency Relief (GEER) fund, which is part of the CARES act. 

The initiative is part of the governor's larger goal that sought to increase the number of working-age Michigan residents completing either a college degree, receiving an industry certificate, or apprenticeship.

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Among leaders in attendance during the governor's press conference were representatives from the Kroger and the service sector, Henry Ford College and the higher education division, and the Michigan Manufacturers Association.

“Michigan manufacturers have been on the front lines in defense against the COVID-19 threat, creating essential products necessary for daily life; from food and pharmaceuticals, to transportation and even toilet paper,” said MMA President and CEO John Walsh. “The Futures for Frontliners program will recognize these truly-deserving heroes, investing in their personal future as well as the economic future of our state.”

Almost 100 business groups, corporations, unions, and legislators offered their support as well. 

Workers will find more information about the program at www.michigan.gov/Frontliners.