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

A woman in a blue mask stands behind a sneeze guard and rings up a customer with a dark jacket and light hair
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.”

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in January 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. Before that she covered a variety of topics, including environmental issues, for Bloomington, Indiana NPR and PBS affiliates WFIU and WTIU. She’s also written and produced stories for the Pacifica Network and WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Sehvilla holds a B.A. in French from Earlham College and an M.A. in journalism from Indiana University.
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