Well over half a million essential workers in Michigan can now go to college for free because of the services they provided during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the state. 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer detailed plans for approximately 625,000 frontline workers who don’t have a college degree to get an education without paying a dime. The program is currently limited to community college.

“Over the past six months Michiganders across the state have put their lives on the line every single day to protect others from this deadly virus,” Whitmer said in a news conference Thursday.

“These men and women have emerged as the real heroes in the midst of this pandemic. And yet we know it’s a lot more important that we act and treat them as the heroes they are and not just call them heroes.”

In order to be eligible for free tuition, workers must meet certain criteria. They have to be Michigan residents who worked in an essential industry at least part-time for at least 11 weeks between April 1 and June 30. Those workers had to be working away from their homes for at least some time during that three-month period.

People who worked in the health-care industry, grocery stores, retail and sanitation are among those that meet the requirements. Essential workers who already have an associate or bachelor’s degree or are in default on a federal student loan are not eligible for the program.

“The vast majority of good paying jobs continue to require at least some education beyond high school,” said Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio. “Futures for Frontliners gives those who helped save lives and kept our communities operating during the height of COVID an opportunity to increase their skills and income and helps us close the state’s skills gap. For Michigan’s economy to recover and grow, its critical we continue to provide expanded opportunities to all.”

Michigan reported 122,319 total coronavirus cases and 6,900 deaths on Sept. 11, according to data compiled by The New York Times. Every day from April 10 to May 4, the state reported a seven-day average of at least 104 deaths per day. The seven-day average hasn’t been higher than 15 deaths since June 15. 

Michigan will invest $24 million in the Governor's Education Emergency Relief Fund. It is part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer In this screenshot from the DNCC’s livestream of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the virtual convention on August 17, 2020. The convention, which was once expected to draw 50,000 people to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is now taking place virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Handout/DNCC via Getty Images