Milwaukee Area Technical College is launching a program to help returning students repay past-due balances for their college expenses. The new MATC ReStart program is aimed at addressing the student debt barrier that prevents some students from completing their degrees. The college said nearly 7,000 students are potentially eligible for the debt scholarship program this fall. MATC ReStart will help eligible returning students repay up to $1,500 of past-due balances owed the college for expenses, including tuition, books and other fees. The program, which started as a pilot program in the spring, has helped 56 students to date. Seed funding to launch MATC ReStart came from the proceeds of a Federal Communications Commission broadcast spectrum auction in 2017. As part of the auction, MATC, the license holder for Milwaukee PBS channels 10 and 36, received $84.9 millionin proceeds. Some of the funds from the auction were designated for making college education more accessible and affordable. MATC has taken several steps in recent years toward that end. In the fall of 2015, MATC launched its Promise program, which provides free tuition to qualifying low-income high school graduates from the college’s service district. The college expanded the program in 2018 to provide free tuition for returning students who pursue an associate degree tied to a top 50 in-demand career in Wisconsin. Both programs are last-dollar scholarships, meaning they cover the gap after other aids and scholarships are applied. “Our research showed that many students were unable to finish their academic programs due to relatively modest debt owed the college,” said Vicki Martin, MATC president. “MATC degrees and diplomas help individuals gain jobs that earn family-sustaining wages. We want to remove the barriers blocking our students from finishing college. Along with programs like our tuition-free MATC Promise, we believe MATC ReStart could make a crucial difference in changing lives for the better, especially in this time of economic distress caused by the pandemic.”To be eligible for MATC ReStart, students must have completed six MATC credits – between fall 2009 and spring 2018 – but not have earned an associate degree, and enroll in at least six credits in the fall 2020 semester.