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MI’s bold proposal supports frontline workers, other states punch up efforts

May 07, 2020
By: Ellen Marrison

Frontline workers in Michigan who don’t have a degree may find a tuition-free pathway to college or a technical certificate, in the same manner as the G.I. Bill following World War II, while others states are also pursuing options for increased educational opportunities for workers who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

Frontline workers in Michigan may have the opportunity to obtain a college degree or technical certificate if a proposal by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is passed. The governor announced the initiative, called Futures for Frontliners, last week. It was inspired by the federal government’s G.I. Bill following World War II that enabled free tuition for soldiers returning from the war.

Whitmer said the program, which the state described as the first of its kind in the country, is a way to thank those on the front lines of the crisis. “This program will ensure tuition-free college opportunities and give these dedicated Michiganders an opportunity to earn a technical certificate, associate degree or even a bachelor’s degree,” the governor said in a release about the initiative.

Last month a bipartisan legislative coalition helped pass the Reconnect program, which offers adults over the age of 25 without college degrees tuition-free access to community college. The governor said she looks forward to working with the coalition to enact this new proposal.  The Futures for Frontliners program would also work toward the goal of increasing the number of working-age adults with a technical certificate or college degree from 45 percent to 60 percent by 2030.

Other workforce efforts related to the coronavirus have surfaced. For instance, in Arkansas, unemployed or dislocated state residents can apply for workforce training at no cost through a partnership between the University of Arkansas Professional and Workforce Development, the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District and the Northwest Arkansas Council. Approximately 75 online training courses and programs have been approved for Dislocated Worker funding. 

In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont announced a statewide expansion of the SkillUp CT program that will make free online learning licenses available to residents receiving unemployment insurance, including those impacted by the pandemic. The expansion will provide access to comprehensive online course work and enable recently laid-off workers to upgrade their skills and earn industry-recognized certifications. The program will be funded by the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority (CHEFA) under an existing grant to the state’s five regional workforce boards.

Gov. Janet Mills signed an executive order in late March that suspends certain restrictions on job training funds managed by the Maine community College System’s MQC (Maine Quality Centers) program, giving it more flexibility to rapidly provide free online training to people who have been displaced by the effects of COVID-19. The effort is expected to help address the changing demands in the job market, where there is new demand for workers in certain jobs, such as medical assisting and pharmaceutical technicians.


coronavirus, workforce