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Window closing for Michigan's frontline workers to apply for tuition-free college

Community colleges in Muskegon and Grand Rapids are encouraging frontline workers to apply for free tuition before Dec. 31 deadline.

MUSKEGON, Mich — Michigan residents who provided essential services during the pandemic between April and June have just four weeks left to apply for tuition-free college.

In August, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a series of initiatives to help Michigan workers and their families during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including the "Futures for Frontliners" program to provide a tuition-free pathway to college or a technical certificate to essential workers who don't have a college degree. This includes workers like the ones staffing hospitals and nursing homes, stocking grocery store shelves, and providing child-care.

"It's so rewarding to complete a healthcare degree, or a manufacturing degree," said Muskegon Community College President Dale Nesbary.

An associate degree or industry-related certificate from a community college can be a path to a high-demand, higher-wage career.

The Futures for Frontlines scholarship covers the cost of that degree or certificate for workers who risked their own health to keep the state's economy going.

"Those people who can not stay home," said Nesbary. "It's a way to support them and thank them for the work that they do."

The program is part of the Governor's effort to increase the number of working-age adults with a technical certificate or college degree from 45% to 60% by 2030.

"I think it is going to be game-changing for the state and for so many people," said Nesbary.

The "Futures for Frontliners" program is the first of its kind in the country, and was inspired by the federal government's support of soldiers returning from World War II by providing educational opportunities.

The application deadline is 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 31, for the Future for Frontliners program. 

As of Dec. 1, there have been 436 frontline workers accepted at Muskegon Community College, where they will begin their studies as early as the Winter 2021 semester in January, but no later than the Fall 2021 semester starting in August.

Grand Rapids Community College says more than 1,700 people have been accepted so far by the state to attend GRCC through the Futures for Frontliners program.

More than 6,000 additional applications to GRCC are under review by the state. Many of these applicants need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA. Others may need to submit additional information to the state, such as employment verification.

The state's online application for the Future for Frontliners program can be found at https://www.michigan.gov/frontliners. 

Once accepted, students must apply to MCC. Anyone who needs help with the application process or with completing FAFSA can call MCC at (231) 773-9131.

Complete information on the Future for Frontliners program, including qualifications, can found on the MCC website at www.muskegoncc.edu/frontliners.

GRCC has experts ready to answer questions about FAFSA and help frontliners start at GRCC. Contact GRCC through the Financial Aid hotline at (616) 234-4030. The Futures for Frontliners hotline is (616) 234-3344; email is futures4frontliners@grcc.edu; and text is (616) 404-4519. Information also is available at grcc.edu/futuresforfrontliners.

The Futures for Frontliners program is for people who worked at least half-time in frontline jobs for 11 of the 13 weeks between April 1 and June 30 and who do not have a college degree.

Eligible frontline industry examples include – but are not limited to -- food and agriculture; healthcare and public health; critical manufacturing; communications and information technology, including news media; law enforcement, public safety, and first responders; public works; and transportation and logistics.

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