Data released by the State of Michigan indicate more than 100,000 individuals have applied to the Futures for Frontliners program. The program application deadline is December 31, 2020. Qualified essential workers can receive up to two years of free community college tuition. For essential workers without a high school diploma, the program will enable them to complete a GED.
The Office of Sixty by 30, which administers the program, believes about 60% of the program’s applicants qualify for free tuition. It offers options for completing a high school or post-secondary credential to applicants who do not qualify for free tuition.
Many essential workers qualify for grant-based financial assistance, which may fully cover the cost of tuition and fees, as well as books and other school-related expenses. The goal of the Office of Sixty by 30 is to raise the proportion of Michigan residents who have at least 60 college credits by 2030. Currently about 45 percent of Michigan’s population has earned at least 60 college credits.
Application statistics collected by the State’s Bureau of Labor Market Information suggest that more than 2,200 essential workers in Washtenaw County have applied for benefits under the program. Although that number may seem large, it represents less than 3% of all essential workers in the county. (Not every essential worker will qualify for benefits.)
In Southeast Michigan, Washtenaw and Oakland Counties have fielded the fewest applicants for the program. Essential workers in Clare and Gladwin counties (mid-Michigan) have submitted the highest proportion of applications. Luce County, in the Upper Peninsula, has the highest proportion of essential workers as a percentage of its overall workforce.
Free community college works on the local level
The program, which pays the so-called “last dollars” of a student’s tuition and fees, combines available federal and state financial aid resources before tapping the Futures for Frontliners funds. This maximizes the funding available for the program. Depending upon how many students qualify for aid of some type, the program could inject hundreds of millions of dollars into Michigan’s community colleges over the next several years. More importantly, it will increase the number of skilled workers in the state.
The interesting part of this free community college program is that many applicants already qualify for grant-based financial aid. This available aid would effectively eliminate their cost of attendance with or without the Futures for Frontliners program.
Recreating the “Futures for Frontliners” program at the community college level is possible. But it requires the community college to reach out to individuals who qualify for financial aid but may not know it. It may also require community colleges to provide additional support services to qualifying applicants. Additional support may include funds to pay for transportation, books and supplies, childcare and sometimes even food or housing assistance.
In short, it requires the community college to be fully engaged with the community it serves. Because even “rich communities” have desperately poor residents who would like the opportunity to escape poverty.
Photo Credit: Paul Sableman , via Flickr