CEO Q&A: Vicki J. Martin, Milwaukee Area Technical College

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BizTimes: What is your philosophy on innovation within your organization?

Vicki Martin: Milwaukee Area Technical College must – and will – innovate to meet regional needs. It’s a key college value. We are agile and responsive to changing conditions, while anticipating future needs to best serve our students and communities. MATC has demonstrated innovation many times in its history. MATC ReStart is the latest example of innovation. We knew that thousands of former MATC students who left before graduating faced a barrier to return: $1,500 or less in past debt. On average, these students owed just more than $500 for past tuition, books or fees. Without a way to pay it back, they were missing out on an opportunity to better themselves and meet employers’ need for skilled workers. We started with a pilot, providing a debt forgiveness scholarship to more than 50 students who re-enrolled. If they continue through three semesters, their debt will be forgiven as they work toward finishing their technical diploma or associate degree. This spring, we extended that offer to about 7,000 former students and early response has been strong.   

BT: What role has innovation played in your organization’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

VM: Innovation is a must in response to COVID-19. We moved 1,500 classes online in a matter of weeks to help students continue learning. We distributed more than 1,000 Chromebooks to bridge the digital divide among our students. We brought students back in small, limited groups this summer to finish courses that must take place in person. We’re innovating and learning from what we offered in spring to make online courses better, to offer in-person sections with safety precautions in place and to provide classes that mix online and in-person instruction to maximize safety and student learning.

BT: What is your greatest success story in initiating change?

VM: MATC embarked on a tremendous change effort in 2015 with our first Promise program, which was the first program of its kind in Wisconsin. We garnered internal and external support for the change and developed new systems and processes in 145 days to announce this program publicly. Our Promise for New High School Graduates provides free tuition for eligible high school students enrolling immediately after graduation, using a public-private partnership model that leverages federal and state financial aid with private donations to fill the gap between what aid pays and the cost of tuition. The Promise program makes college a reality for students who never thought it was possible. We followed with the successful launch of our MATC Promise for Adults program in 2018. Together, the MATC Promise programs have already unlocked access to college for more than 1,400 eligible students.

BT: What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in the next 18 months?

VM: Growth opportunities include expanding our Second Chance Pell efforts to educate students who are incarcerated, adding more eight-week courses to fit student needs and providing more support with online instruction. Students considering options closer to home in light of COVID-19 will find an incredible value in MATC. The coming months also present an opportunity to drive greater student success as we welcome our new students into the nationally recognized Pathways model to help more students – especially students of color – stay on track, graduate and achieve their dreams.

700 West State Street • Milwaukee, WI 53233
(414) 297-6282    www.matc.edu

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