By Russ Kavalhuna
When our political leaders work together, they serve us all. And it is time to give credit where credit is due. The State Legislature and the Governor deserve our thanks for working as teammates on a State budget that prioritizes education in protecting colleges from any state funding reductions below their original 2020 funding levels. The budget also includes new education investments focused on bridging our skills gap. This includes $30 million for the Michigan Reconnect program to provide a tuition-free pathway for adults looking to upskill and earn a postsecondary certificate or associate degree, which will help move the state closer to reaching the goal of 60% postsecondary educational attainment by 2030. This budget is a shining example of how goals set now can help us get through the pandemic.
Another example of Michigan’s focus on our joint future is the State’s modern-day G.I. Bill—the Futures for Frontliners program, which offers essential workers a tuition-free path to a college degree. These essential workers, “Frontliners,” have shown up at work every day, many times in jobs that are underappreciated and leave hard-working employees struggling from paycheck to paycheck. Approximately 625,000 Michiganders have worked during the pandemic to serve our communities in hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores, sanitation operations, delivery services, retail stores, and more. This program now honors their work with a tuition-free path to a college degree or certificate. This is the silver lining to the COVID cloud under which essential workers have been toiling. On top of helping these deserving citizens, it is simply good public policy.
Like we did after World War II, we need to stabilize our economy and clear the way for long-term growth. Michigan can re-emerge from this pandemic stronger and more united by investing in the people who demonstrated such resilience amid COVID-19. Community colleges, like Henry Ford College, can serve as a hub for government, business, and citizens to come together to support the Futures for Frontliners program and these Michiganders who have served us. This will help businesses fill job openings and bridge the skills gap beyond the pandemic.
Seventy-five percent of Michigan jobs will require a post-high-school credential in the coming years. For many of our Frontliners, those jobs will be out of reach without more education. For our State, having a competitive workforce and creating jobs is critical to dealing with the economic impact of COVID-19.
Henry Ford College is ready to help Frontliners select coursework and training that will improve their lives and careers, because we partner with employers to teach the skills they demand. We have experience in helping students succeed in college while working and caring for families. We offer intensive support mechanisms and flexible course scheduling. We stand with the State of Michigan in supporting these essential workers all the way through graduation and into their careers.
Interested Frontliners have a deadline to consider this opportunity. They can complete a scholarship application by 11:59 p.m., Dec. 31, 2020 via www.michigan.gov/fronliners.
Frontliners put themselves at risk to serve Michigan citizens during a pandemic. Together, by making them and their education a statewide priority, we will now put their futures at the forefront. We will empower them to pursue a different, more prosperous future that they choose. This will create a stronger, more resilient Michigan.
Russ Kavalhuna is President of Henry Ford College.