According to the State of Michigan, it has received more than 60,000 applications for its Futures for Frontliners (F4F) program. The program offers free college tuition to frontline workers who stayed on the job at the onset of the pandemic. Michigan has 28 community colleges, so that’s an average of more than 2,100 new students per college.
Clearly, that’s not how the new students will be distributed. But WCC stands to gain a lot of new students (and cash) as a result. Free community college has been a somewhat touchy subject among the WCC administration and certain Trustees. At one time, the prospect of free college left them worried about “holding the bag.”
This was, of course, after Governor Whitmer announced her “60 by ’30 program during her first State of the State address. The Legislature declined to fund that initiative, but that’s a different issue. Governor Whitmer is using discretionary CARES Act fund to finance the F4F program. It’s a “last-dollar” program. That means that students who qualify for other financial aid, like Pell Grants, will use that funding first to pay for their tuition and fees. F4F will pay for any remaining costs.
If WCC picked up 2,100 F4F students, it would mean nearly a 20% increase in the enrollment and about $12M in tuition, if all of those students stayed for two years. Right now, I’m sure that’s looking pretty good to an Administration that’s sorely in need of some extra cash. For whatever reason, this Administration prefers to cook up unrelated schemes (like building a hotel and convention center or operating a health club) to generate cash instead of focusing on WCC’s educational mission.
Trustees must guard free college opportunity
The influx of cash would be great, but we need Trustees who will make sure that cash gets applied to the proper place: instruction. When the enrollment at WCC goes up, its instructional expenses also go up. The Trustees cannot allow the Administration to divert the F4F funds to patch the million-dollar pothole in WCC’s budget caused by the Health and Fitness Center’s extended closure.
Nor can we have the Administration lard on extra per-credit-hour fees to pay for the construction of the “Advanced Transportation Center.” I always put that in quotes because even the Administration admits that the building isn’t about “advanced transportation.” That’s just what they called it when they filled out the paperwork for the State. (I’m serious.)
F4F represents what is perhaps the only opportunity for these prospective students to escape low-wage work. Free college is their best chance to improve their economic position. We need Trustees who will ensure that these workers get the benefit they’ve earned.
Photo Credit: Tim Dennell , via Flickr