State scholarship pays tuition for frontline workers

The Futures for Frontliners state scholarship program offers an avenue to ease the financial strain for Michigan residents working in essential industries who’ve dreamt of furthering their education, including at Grand Rapids Community College.

The Futures for Frontliners is a state scholarship program for Michiganders without college degrees who worked in essential industries during the state COVID-19 shutdown in spring 2020 (April 1-June 30). The scholarship provides frontline workers with, in most cases, tuition-free access to local community colleges so they can pursue an associate degree or a skills certificate, full time or part-time.

The deadline to apply for the scholarship is Dec. 31. Additional information is available at

More than 80,000 people have applied to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Futures for Frontliners program since it began accepting applications in September, and about 800 are Lakeshore residents. Whitmer allocated $24 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act bill toward the Frontliners scholarship program, according to GRCC President Bill Pink.

There is a twist for how the Frontliners scholarship works for students living in Allegan and Ottawa counties who intend to enroll at GRCC: They will need to pay the difference between the in-district rate of $117 per credit hour and the out-of-district per credit hour of $247.

A financial buffer

Even though the scholarship doesn’t make enrolling at GRCC tuition-free, it still will provide a financial buffer to students like Katie DeGroff and Kelsey Sivertson, who work as an administrative assistant and events manager, respectively, at the Holland-based economic development nonprofit Lakeshore Advantage.

Kelsey Sivertson
Both are considered frontline workers because they worked at Lakeshore Advantage in an essential industry to help small businesses with grant administration. DeGroff already has earned 37 college credits and has 23 credits to go to earn her associate degree. She sees a silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think that the pandemic has slowed everybody down and given them the perspective to reevaluate where they are at,” DeGroff says, 27, who plans to eventually transfer to Davenport University or Grand Valley State University. “I think I’m motivated to get things done that I’ve put off or I just didn’t have time to do, like finishing my degree, so I’m excited about my future.” 

Sivertson is determined to earn her associate degree from GRCC debt-free. Her Frontliners scholarship will help her fulfill that goal.

“This scholarship will enable me to cut the cost in tuition by over 50% — probably closer to 60% — which is a huge blessing, to be honest, because I don’t do loans and I have to pay for all of my classes out-of-pocket,” says Sivertson, 29, who plans to transfer to Hope College. “The out-of-district cost at GRCC is significantly higher, it’s $130 more per credit hour. So the Futures for Frontliners scholarship drastically reduces the cost of what I’m paying. For example, last semester, I took about six credits and it cost me about $2,000 out-of-pocket. And then, this semester I am taking six credits and I will pay a little under $800.”

Tuition discount

The list of who is an “essential” or “frontline” worker is expansive. It includes food and agriculture; health care and public health; critical manufacturing; communications and information technology, including news media; law enforcement, public safety, and first responders; public works; and transportation and logistics. For a complete list, visit

GRCC President Bill PinkLakeshore residents who receive the scholarship and enroll at GRCC are essentially receiving a discount on their tuition, says GRCC’s Pink.

“It’s a good discount for our out-of-district students, yet it’s not the free community college (tuition),” he says. “So, for the out-of-district student, the difference is the $247 minus the $117, which comes out to a difference about $130 per credit hour. For our out-of-district students who are paying $247 per credit hour right now, it’s a pretty nice discount.”

Reimbursement savings

The scholarship also saves money for the Lakeshore companies that reimburse employees’ tuition.

“There’s some cost savings involved for some of our company partners,” Pink says. 

Sivertson says she is grateful to not only receive the scholarship but also have people who care to see her fulfill her academic goals.

“I am super thankful to ... Pink and all the educators for an unconventional student like me to have access to education, in terms of night classes and the way the professors work with you,” Silverton says. “The way Dr. Pink champions unconventional students is something I value and is such an inspiration to me. 

“The person who actually told me about the scholarship is my boss, Jennifer Owens, the President of Lakeshore Advantage. She is constantly encouraging me toward my professional and academic growth.”

Read more articles by Paul R. Kopenkoskey.