Last updated on October 18th, 2019 at 04:09 pm
Herb Kohl Philanthropies, the charitable foundation of the former U.S. senator and former Milwaukee Bucks owner, donated $110,000 to provide small grants for students at Milwaukee Area Technical College, Milwaukee Public Schools and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who are facing emergencies.
The funds support programs at each of the institutions that provide emergency assistance grants (typically under $1,000) for students experiencing unexpected emergencies, such as losses due to fires, theft, accidents or a sudden interruption of income.
“One of the challenges for a lot of our students is that there are enormous financial challenges in attending college but also balancing a lot of the things that happen day-to-day,” said Laura Bray, vice president of college advancement and external communications at MATC. “We define ‘emergency’ as something that occurs that was unexpected and that provides some financial hardship … For a lot of these students we see at MATC, that can mean the difference between staying in school and dropping out.”
The donation bolsters the three institutions’ combined effort to increase college retention. Through the M-cubed initiative, UWM, MATC and MPS — which collectively represent 130,000 students in the city — have collaborated since 2016 to reduce barriers that prevent students’ success in K-12 and college. Efforts include increasing Free Application for Federal Student Aid completion to improve college affordability, educating parents and students to prepare for high school and post-secondary, and aligning the institutions’ math, science and English curricula.
Emergency funding also plays an important role in college retention, school representatives said.
More than half of MPS graduates who enroll in post-secondary education do so at UWM or MATC. However, it’s common for students to be admitted at MATC but, due to financial challenges in the summer months, never enroll at the college.
“These grants are really crucial for the success of our most financially vulnerable students and families,” said Ericca Pollack, college access coordinator for MPS. “One unforeseen financial crisis can lead to a student dropping out or not graduating.”
At both UWM and MATC, students apply online for emergency grants and the funds are deployed quickly, school representatives said.
“We’re able to, within 24 to 48 hours, turn around with support if they meet the criteria,” Bray said. “…When an emergency happens to anybody, the stress level is exacerbated. It helps them stay in school but also gives them peace of mind that I think helps them to have more successful outcomes in what they’re trying to achieve.”
In the past, UWM and MATC have received emergency grants assistance from student loan guarantor Ascendium Education Group (formerly Great Lakes Higher Education Corp.), but that funding has since dropped off. Since then, local organizations, including the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County and Milwaukee Brewers, have contributed to the fund pool at MATC. UWM has also received funding for emergency assistance grants from private donors and alumni.
While emergency assistance is necessary, Becky Freer, associate dean of students at UWM, said it also highlights the need for more need-based funding on the front-end of a student’s college experience to buffer against those unforeseen financial challenges and allow students to engage more fully in school.
“An emergency grant is the end of the road, it’s the last effort, it’s the last hope,” Freer said. “When a student is reaching out for emergency grants, they’ve already tried everything else and they are already probably not having time to engage in our college campuses because they have so many other responsibilities. So our best effort is to make sure we’re looking at more need-based scholarships and grants on the front end so that students don’t find themselves in the financial distress of having to deal with emergencies.”