DEARBORN –– Henry Ford College, and state business leaders Sept. 10 launched Futures for Frontliners, a tuition-free college education opportunity to the estimated 625,000 Michigan residents who have served as essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Inspired by the GI Bill, which provided a college education to those who served in the military during World War II, Futures for Frontliners offers Michigan adults who provided essential services during the pandemic a tuition-free pathway to gaining the skills needed to obtain high-demand, high-wage careers.
Essential workers eligible for Futures for Frontliners risked their health and their lives to provide essential services during the pandemic. They include:
• Hospital and nursing home staff.
• Grocery store employees.
• Childcare providers serving critical infrastructure workers.
• Personal protective equipment manufacturers.
• Public safety employees.
• Sanitation workers.
• Delivery drivers and postal workers.
“They put themselves at risk to serve Michigan residents during a pandemic,” HFC President Russell Kavalhuna said at the launch. “We will put their futures at the forefront now.”
Kavalhuna expressed his excitement about Futures for Frontliners – which he called the best news he’s heard in months. He said HFC is proud to support this program and will work with public and private entities to help Michigan build its future both individually and as a society.
“We are going to commit to make it worth their time,” Kavalhuna said. “Our college wants to make sure that every single class they take is a step forward to a new career or an enhanced career.
“We will work hard to understand their goals and to achieve a path for them to accomplish those goals. We will assist them in their financial needs, their academic needs, and their social needs during their college experience.”
To be eligible for the program, 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 and June 30.
• Have been required by their job to work outside the home at least some of the time between April 1 and June 30.
• Have not previously earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
• Have not defaulted on a federal student loan.
• Have completed a Futures for Frontliners application by 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 31.
If applicants meet these requirements as verified by the state, they will be able to begin their studies at HFC as early as Winter 2021 Semester, which begins Jan. 11, 2021.
Futures for Frontliners is a $24 million investment funded by the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund – which is part of the CARES Act. It also supports Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 60 by 30 Action Alliance. The latter is an initiative Whitmer announced in her first State of the State Address that aims to increase the number of Michigan citizens with a post-secondary credential to 60 percent by 2030 to meet the demand for skilled workers.
“This initiative is Michigan’s way of expressing gratitude to essential workers for protecting public health and keeping our state running,” Whitmer said. “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.”
“As an employer of nearly 20,000 frontline associates here in Michigan and beyond, we are proud and thankful for each of our employees who stepped up to feed our customers and our communities during the pandemic,” said Rachel Hurst, Corporate Affairs manager for Kroger Co., who spoke at the launch. “We’re excited for them to have this hard-earned opportunity to continue their education with support from the Futures for Frontliners program, which pairs well with our Feed Your Future program.”
“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 John Walsh, president of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, who also spoke at the launch. “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.”
Advocates for additional career training stated that Futures for Frontliners also helps them offset training costs and provide another avenue for retention and long-term career growth. Several other business organizations, corporations, unions, and legislators have volunteered to serve as Frontliners Champions. These volunteers will inform their frontline workers, members, and constituents about this tuition-free college opportunity.
Kavalhuna said a college degree or a post-high school credential will not only make lives for essential workers better, but will also benefit society as a whole. That is why HFC offers so many academic programs that are connected to closing Michigan’s skills gap.
“Those programs are, candidly, a path to the middle class,” he said. “Michigan Frontliners deserve that path. So we are committed to helping Frontliners in any academic or workforce program at our college – to help them in their path. We will support them all the way from graduation into their new careers.”
For more information about Futures for Frontliners, go to www.hfcc.edu/frontliners.