Whitmer announces plan to expand tuition-free college for 22K more Michiganders 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Belle Isle June 22 calling for an expansion of college tuition funding to include pandemic frontline workers| Ken Coleman photo

Tonesia Nesbitt, a Wayne County Community College District honors student, on Tuesday offered thanks to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for the opportunity to help her fulfill her career dream. 

“I cannot express the bridge of troubled waters that I was facing,” said Nesbitt, a single parent whose daughter was born with multiple medical needs. “Without the help of the Michigan Reconnect program, I would not have this bridge and opportunity to continue pursuing my education, become a nurse and a friend to the sick. I can tell you that every nickel and dime matters. Every opportunity helps.” 

Tonesia Nesbitt | Ken Coleman photo

Michigan Reconnect is a state government scholarship program that offers a significant tuition discount to community college students. Whitmer called on Tuesday for the expansion of the Futures for Frontliners, a similar state scholarship program. She wants tuition-free scholarships to include pandemic frontline employees who worked between Nov. 1, 2020, and Jan. 31, 2021.  The investment would cost about $100 million. With the expansion, as many as 22,000 additional workers would be eligible to apply. It would come from federal COVID-19 relief funding. 

Today we are taking the last big step to get back to normal, but we will never forget the frontline workers along the way who helped us get here,” said Whitmer during a news conference on Belle Isle in Detroit. “That’s why I’m calling on the Legislature to join me in expanding the Futures for Frontliners scholarship program to cover the selfless Michiganders who stepped up in unprecedented ways to keep our state moving. As we put Michigan back to work, this will help people get into good-paying, high-demand careers, which will boost our economic jumpstart even further.” 

GOP leaders from both the state House and Senate have been reviewing Whitmer’s budget and COVID-19-related spending proposals. Republicans control both chambers. 

Futures for Frontliners, inspired by the federal G.I. Bill that provided college degrees to those serving their country in World War II. Launched in 2020, it offers eligible Michigan adults without college degrees or high school diplomas who were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 a tuition-free pathway to gaining the skills needed to obtain high-demand, high-wage careers

60K enroll in state’s free tuition program for frontline workers

The funding was not only available to those in the medical field, but also essential workers in manufacturing, nursing homes, grocery stores, sanitation, delivery, retail and other work environments. It has been funded with $24 million of federal dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, commonly known as CARES Act. 

“We know that a strong state and a strong economy requires an educated and skilled workforce, and by expanding and investing in programs like Futures for Frontliners, we can help more Michiganders prepare for rewarding careers that provide stability to them and their families,” said Kerry Ebersole Singh, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Sixty by 30 director. 

Whitmer’s plan also was praised by college leaders.

“Our frontliners’ students have been hard at work gaining the knowledge and skills required for today’s job market. Expanding this opportunity will boost our regional economy and improve the lives of many deserving students and their families,” said Trevor Kubatzke, Lake Michigan College president. 

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.