The state of Michigan is offering free college tuition for frontline workers in a unique program inspired by the G.I. Bill that provided college education to those serving their country after WWII. Futures For Frontliners , first announced in April and detailed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer earlier this month, is being rolled out by the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). Youth Policy Lab (YPL) Data and Policy Fellow Avazeh Attari has been instrumental in developing those plans.
The fellowship was designed to give technical assistance and strategic support for state agencies, using data to achieve specific and measurable improvements in social policies and programs operated by the State, so Attari found herself in the center of the initiative when she was placed with LEO.
“Futures for Frontliners was just getting into motion, so I was able to help design the program with LEO, Treasury and other State agencies and departments, and the governor’s education advisors -- everything from building the application, to conducting outreach to stakeholders, to working with educational institutions,” she says.
An estimated 625,000 essential workers who put in time from April 1 to June 30 are eligible, including those working in medical fields, manufacturing, nursing homes, grocery stores, sanitation, delivery, and retail. The program is available to those without a previous degree and those who need to complete a high school diploma -- both leading to a community college path. The website, www.michigan.gov/Frontliners, offers career advice, a list of local community colleges and how to get started on their application, with an application deadline of December 31, 2020.
The $24 million is funded by the Governor's Education Emergency Relief Fund — part of the federal CARES Act. It is a new element of Whitmer’s plan to create employment opportunities by increasing the percentage of Michigan adults who have some sort of post-high school credential or degree, from 45% to 60%, by 2030, called Sixty by 30.
“This is exactly the type of involvement we had been hoping for when the fellowship was established at YPL, to be able to offer real data insights and advance the public good in conjunction with the state,” says Executive Director Andrea Plevek.
Attari will continue to be involved with the project, overseeing the application period as the program’s Director, while remaining a Fellow. Part of that responsibility will be working with LEO’s Communications team and Department of Technology, Management, and Budget (DTMB) to analyze applicant demographic data to ensure the program is being marketed effectively across the state and is reaching all frontline workers who are eligible - especially those in underserved communities.
She will remain involved with tracking the success of the program, through the application process and then to completion. Those plans are still emerging.
For Attari, it is also personal. As the daughter of political refugees from Iran, she saw how getting a degree changed her mother’s life. “For most of my life, my mom only had a high school diploma. When I was in high school, she started taking classes at our local community college to work towards her associate degree, and we ended up graduating with our masters at the same time. Going back to school opened up so many opportunities for her. And for frontline workers, who want to take that next step in their career with an associate degree or skills certificate, this program is a way for them to do that.”