Essential workers in Michigan that are helping on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic may be given the opportunity to continue their educational pursuits for free, the state's governor said Wednesday.
The program, titled "Futures for Frontliners, will be available to essential workers without a college degree, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.
The program will be offered not only to those working in hospitals or nursing homes, but also to grocery store employees, child care workers, sanitation workers and those who deliver supplies.
"The Futures for Frontliners program is our way of saying 'thank you' to those who have risked their lives on the front lines of this crisis," Whitmer said in a statement. "I want to assure all of our workers we will never forget those of you who stepped up and sacrificed their own health during this crisis. You're the reason we're going to get through this."
Whitmer described the program as "paths to opportunity" for Michigan's essential workers, and likened it to the GI Bill offered to returning soldiers after World War II.
"Historically when Americans put their lives on the line to defend the rest of us from a foreign enemy, we have shown our gratitude by giving them educational opportunities to improve their lives," Whitmer said during a press conference on Wednesday. "Our enemy in this instance, is a virus, but our frontline workers are just as heroic, and that's why it's important for us to extend some gratitude, and some opportunity, once we are beyond this moment."
The program will ensure "a tuition-free pathway to college" as well as an opportunity to earn a technical certificate, associate degree or potentially a bachelor's degree at universities.
Whitmer said that she looks forward to working on enacting her proposal with the bipartisan legislative coalition that helped pass Reconnect, another educational program for adults, last month.
"I'm hopeful that other governors across the country will follow our lead to create pathways opportunity for the people who've been on the frontlines protecting our families," she said.
The governor hopes the new program will also help the state reach its goal of increasing the number of working-age adults with a technical certificate or college degree from 45% to 60% by 2030, according to the news release.