Sending Frontline Workers Back To School Is A Good Idea, Jobs Researcher Says

May 11, 2020

A cashier rings up a customer in Macomb last month
Credit Paul Sancya / AP Photo

Thank you, front-line workers. It’s a message you see everywhere in the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she’d like to put some substance behind the gratitude. Whitmer’s proposed a program – Futures For Frontliners – to pay tuition for workers who want to earn a degree or certificate. Michelle Miller-Adams thinks that’s an excellent idea. The senior researcher at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research said so in a recent op-ed in Bridge Magazine.

Miller-Adams explains the benefits and limits of “last-dollar” scholarships, and the bill’s prospects in the legislature, in an interview with WMUK. She says Futures For Frontliners is actually a canny revival of a tuition program that got zeroed out in the shutdown, Michigan Reconnect.

“There was strong support for the bill,” she said. “It was approved by the Legislature and funded, $35 million in March.” The governor signed it, but a few days later, that money got pulled for coronavirus relief.

“The governor is very politically savvy,” Miller-Adams said. “I think it’s very hard to oppose the idea of letting frontline workers who don’t have degrees go back to college tuition-free.”

“Even though the unemployment picture has changed,” she added, “the need for a credential or degree is just as strong because if you have one of those you’re way better positioned to get a decent-paying job than if you don’t. And many of those low-wage workers that are in those frontline jobs that we’re all busy praising and thanking and clapping for and buying meals for don’t have degrees.”