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Scholarship program offers frontline workers free tuition
While many Michigan workers stayed home during the state's COVID-19 shutdown, Jeremy
Bishop's routine didn't waver. The 43-year- old Three Oaks resident works from midnight to 8 a.m. as a recovery coach at Carol's Hope, a 24-hour crisis intervention facility for people with substance abuse issues.
Bishop speaks passionately about Carol's Hope and the unexpected career trajectory he started just two years ago. So, when he learned that those same overnight shifts worked during the tumultuous Spring and Summer of 2020 also meant a rare opportunity to pay for a college degree in his newly chosen field, Bishop was among the first to apply.
"As a nontraditional student, I know this is a golden opportunity," Bishop said. "It takes all the excuses away. I know it does for me."
Bishop is among more than 200 Lake Michigan College students who have been accepted into Futures for Frontliners. The state scholarship program unveiled by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in September offers free tuition to Michiganders who worked in essential industries at the height of the state shutdown.
Essential workers in Michigan without a college degree who worked at least half- time in 11 of 13 weeks from April 1 through June 30 are eligible for the scholarship program. This includes employees who staffed grocery stores and restaurants, operated public transportation, or provided police or fire services, among others.
While the program aims to increase the number of skilled workers in the state, the appeal for essential workers is the potential for higher wages and increased job opportunities. On average, employees with a two-year degree earn $7,500 more annually, while 75 percent of Michigan jobs require education beyond high school.
"I have looked at help-wanted ads knowing that I could do that job," said Bishop, who is studying psychology at LMC and hopes to transfer to Western Michigan University in 2021 to study social work. "I have the skills. I have the intelligence. I have the ability. But I don't have the degree. That's why this is such an important program. For a lot of people, I think this could be a game-changer."
Jeremy Schaeffer, LMC's Director of Admissions and Recruitment, believes that Futures for Frontliners could significantly impact students, like Bishop, who started college but never finished.
"This is a fresh start," Schaeffer said. "That's what we are seeing. We are looking at ways to support these students – connecting them with mentors and providing access to tutoring – so they have everything they need to be successful. One of the real benefits of Futures for Frontliners is that students can spend a little more time with a mentor or tutor to make sure they are successful instead of having to pick up that extra shift to pay for tuition."
For some students, Futures for Frontliners may mean the difference between going to college or not. For others, it's about breaking down the barriers that kept them from completing previous attempts at a college education.
"People see this as an opportunity to take that next step," Schaeffer said. "Maybe they work as a CNA (Certified Nurses Assistant) and want to become a medical assistant or a nurse. This allows them to do that. Other people may have spent 10 years in a career and want to try something else. They just needed a door to open for them. This is that door."
However, that door closes Dec. 31, the deadline to apply for the Futures for Frontliners scholarship.
"If you think you are eligible, complete the application, whether you want to take classes in the Spring, Summer or next Fall," Schaeffer said. "You may be a current student, and your Pell Grant is already covering everything, but you never know how your situation may change. If you apply by the deadline and are accepted into this program, you have this available if and when you may need it."
HOW TO APPLY
Scholarship applications for Futures for Frontliners are being accepted through Dec. 31. Once accepted into the program, frontline workers can enroll in Spring semester classes, which begin Jan. 11, 2021, make plans for Summer or even next Fall.
To learn more about Futures for Frontliners at LMC, visit lakemichigancollege.edu/frontliners or call (269) 927-6596.