Vicki Martin was at a national conference of community college leaders and set out to attend a workshop. But she walked into a different session than the one was looking for. That worked out well — it triggered a change in her thinking that may trigger a change in the education and job prospects for large numbers of low-income Milwaukee young adults.
Martin is president of Milwaukee Area Technical College and the session she walked into was about a program called the Tennessee Promise, which offers two years of community and technical college education with no tuition cost for high school graduates in that state.
“It really caught my imagination,” Martin said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Feb. 23. She decided, “This is very doable. . . . We just have to do it.”
And so MATC is. The MATC Promise was launched in September 2015 with a goal of leading 1,000 more low-income high school graduates to head directly to MATC to work on getting post-high school degrees or certificates that will boost them toward good jobs.
The MATC Promise has a list of requirements, including graduating high school in four years with at least a 2.0 grade point average and 90% or better attendance, getting at least a 16 on the ACT college admission test, and meeting financial eligibility standards.
But by Dec. 1, the deadline for applying for the coming school year, 2,969 students had applied, almost triple the goal, Martin told Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy.
That doesn’t mean that many will be at MATC in the fall. One big hurdle that has tripped up many young adults seeking to benefit from similar programs around the country is completing the process of seeking available federal aid for students. MATC is working with students, families and school officials to get as many as possible to complete the process.
Martin said the MATC Promise is intended to be a “last dollar” way of helping the students – once they get grants they are entitled to, MATC will pay the remaining tuition costs for two-years. Martin said the projection is that this will work out to about $1,500 per student for the two years. MATC has begun a drive to raise $1 million to support the effort and has received $626,000 so far, she said.
Martin said that many people do not realize that only 11% of MATC students enrolled direct after graduating high school. More frequently, people wait to go to MATC for a year or two or more, and then come back to school part time. But, she said, “Full time students tend to be more successful.” Going on to get further education increases the chances of getting a job.
MATC would like to see a larger number of young adult students, but Martin said, “It’s going to change the whole nature of our college because we are used to students the average age being 30. It’s going to be a whole different environment for us and we know that and we’re getting prepared for that.”
Martin said many people don’t realize the life circumstances of large numbers of MATC students. “Our students are hungry, they’re homeless,” she said. “They are one incident away from not finishing school or being able to get to their job. I don’t think people realize how day-to-day most of our students live.”
Getting more people on track early on for more stable futures will be a boost for Milwaukee as a whole, she said. There are hurdles to making that a reality, but she said the college is determined to do it right,