Milwaukee Area Technical College announced today it is launching a free tuition program aimed at helping qualifying Milwaukee area adults complete their associate degree and bridging the region’s skills gap.
The program, called the MATC Promise for Adults, will cover tuition costs for students 24 years and older who are living in the MATC district and have already completed some college credits.
It marks an expansion of MATC’s Promise program, which launched in 2015 to provide free tuition to high school graduates who meet certain requirements.
The new program will provide eligible adults free tuition, after scholarships and grants are applied, for up to 75 credits toward an associate degree tied to a top 50 in-demand career in Wisconsin. Those degree programs include STEM fields, construction, health care, manufacturing, hospitality and tourism, among others.
MATC leaders touted the program as a way to address an urgent need in the community: a lack of skilled workers and city residents’ struggle to pay for higher education.
“At a time when climbing from the bottom of the income ladder to the top is a challenge nationwide and an even tougher task in Milwaukee County, we are providing a path to success,” MATC president Vicki Martin said. “… And we are not just talking about the need to fill jobs, we are continuing to do something about it.”
Martin said there is a particular need for workers to fill so-called “middle-skill” jobs, those that require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree.
Currently, about 37 percent of Milwaukee residents have earned a post-secondary degree. Meanwhile, in Milwaukee County, about 22 percent of adult residents have started college but didn’t complete their degree for whatever reason.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele gave $500,000 toward a pilot version of the program specifically targeting people living and working in the 53206 zip code. Those funds will also help support the expanded Promise for Adults program. Abele has also given $250,000 to the college’s free tuition program for high school students.
“Everybody should have access to a great education,” Abele said. “We all know that MATC has it. And the absolutely worst reason for someone to not be able to take advantage of it is because they can’t afford it. We’re better than that.”
The primary funding source for the program is federal Pell Grants. The college is also seeking private funding to support the scholarship program.
The program is available to adults who have annual family income of $56,000 or less, have earned at least six college credits and have been out of college for at least two years.
Antoinette Howell, a 25-year-old MATC student, is among the first to participate in the program. Howell started a college program years ago, but after a few deaths in her family and her own pregnancy, she put her education on hold in 2016.
Howell enrolled at MATC in January after hearing about the pilot free tuition program and is working toward an associate degree in business management.
She expects to complete her degree in 2019, after which she may continue to pursue her bachelor’s degree.
“I want to show my daughter that, just because life gets hard, it doesn’t mean you can’t finish,” Howell said.