New program offers tuition-free classes to essential workers

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published September 18, 2020

 Warren’s Nayeisha Washington, 27, who works as a nurse’s assistant at a rehabilitation facility in Bloomfield Hills, plans to apply for the Futures for Frontliners program at Macomb Community College. Beginning in January, the Futures for Frontliners program will offer essential, frontline workers tuition-free courses at Michigan community colleges.

Warren’s Nayeisha Washington, 27, who works as a nurse’s assistant at a rehabilitation facility in Bloomfield Hills, plans to apply for the Futures for Frontliners program at Macomb Community College. Beginning in January, the Futures for Frontliners program will offer essential, frontline workers tuition-free courses at Michigan community colleges.

Photo provided by Nayeisha Washington

LANSING — Michigan employees considered essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic this past spring will now have the opportunity to enroll in college classes at no cost.

On Sept. 10, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — along with representatives in education, business, labor and workforce development — announced the Futures for Frontliners program to offer essential, frontline workers tuition-free courses at Michigan community colleges.

Funding will be available to essential workers in the medical field, manufacturing, nursing homes, grocery stores, sanitation, delivery, retail and more. The Futures for Frontliners program is a $24 million investment funded by Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund, which is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act grant.

“We are indebted to those who left the safety of their homes during the height of pandemic to ensure that the rest of us had access to the essential services, groceries, medications and products that we needed to continue to shelter at home,” Macomb Community College President James O. Sawyer IV said in a prepared statement. “I can think of no better way to demonstrate our thanks to these dedicated front-line workers who risked their own health than to help position them and their families with a pathway to a better future through education and training in high-demand fields.”

There are several eligibility requirements to apply 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, and have been required by their job to work outside the home at least some of the time between April 1 and June 30.

Students who apply must not have previously earned an associate or bachelor’s degree, not be in default on a federal student loan and complete a Futures for Frontliners scholarship application by 11:59 p.m., Dec. 31, at www.michigan.gov/Frontliners.

Applicants are encouraged to view the online College Checklist for complete details on the next steps while on the website. According to the website, Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, St. Clair, Schoolcraft and Henry Ford are among the community colleges participating.

After submitting the Futures for Frontliners scholarship application, applicants must submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid application to receive the Futures for Frontliners scholarship. However, applicants do not need to receive federal aid in order to receive Futures for Frontliners scholarship funding.

The program is not based on a student’s finances, nor will their salary have to be under a certain amount to qualify. The scholarship can be used for a community college associate’s degree or industry-recognized skills certificate. There’s also a path for high school completion before or while pursuing college.

Nayeisha Washington learned about the possibility of such a program several weeks ago.

“I heard about it while I was working,” the 27-year-old Warren resident said. “I didn’t believe it.”

But now that Futures for Frontliners has been established, Washington plans to enroll in courses at Macomb Community College for the 2021 winter semester, which begins in January. Washington works as a nurse’s assistant at a rehabilitation facility in Bloomfield Hills and did so during the pandemic. Whether they are recovering from an accident, illness or surgery, some residents are there for long-term care, while others stay for a short time.

“It depends on the situation,” Washington said, adding those receiving care vary in age. Washington helps with everyday needs, including meals and hygiene. “I make sure they get all the essentials they need.”

She also spends time visiting with the patients, who, besides those in hospice, aren’t able to have visitors because of COVID-19. She added that Zoom video conferencing with family and friends is available to residents who can’t have in-person visitors. Since the pandemic began, Washington and other staff must wear personal protection equipment and gloves and continuously wash their hands.

Washington looks forward to resuming her education. Her goal is to ultimately earn a degree to become an occupational therapy assistant.

“I’m just excited,” Washington said. “A new chapter.”

Wayne County Community College District officials have started receiving phone calls and emails from students interested in the Futures for Frontliners program. The program will be available by January 2021, which begins the WCCCD’s spring semester.

“This is an opportunity for students who didn’t think they had an opportunity,” WCCCD Vice Chancellor of Student Services Brian Singleton said, adding that it includes workers who might be underemployed or lost their jobs because of COVID-19.

“We want them to come to us and we’ll do whatever we can to get students on track. We will connect them through the application process,” Singleton said. “We are giving them as much information as possible and helping them choose a program they may be interested in. It’s a feel-good moment to help students complete their degrees.”

According to Singleton, community college officials don’t determine which students are approved for the program; that is done at the state level.

“We’re pushing for potential students to be able to start or finish a degree. It’s being promoted by the governor’s office,” Singleton said. “I think that helps us in getting the word out. Wayne County has been hit harder with COVID-19. It’s really an honor to be able to serve those who served us.”