UWM receives $2.1 million donation to close graduation gap between students

Panther statue on UWM’s campus.
Panther statue on UWM’s campus. Jake Hill Photography

Last updated on March 13th, 2023 at 05:15 pm

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee announced this week that a group of donors has committed $2.1 million to an initiative meant to close the long-standing equity gap in college graduation rates.

The work is rooted in the Moon Shot for Equity partnership that UWM joined in 2020 with education firm EAB, a collaboration formed to duplicate the success achieved at Georgia State University, which announced in 2019 that over a three-year period, it had more than doubled its graduation rate and cut graduation rate gaps between Black and white students in half.

“Moon Shot’s comprehensive approach removes obstacles and creates solutions that will lead to meaningful and lasting change,” said Phyllis King, executive director of UWM’s Moon Shot for Equity initiative. “These new funds will help transform the university and support the next phase of our work.”

UWM is one of four southeastern Wisconsin higher education institutions, including Carthage College, Milwaukee Area Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, that together formed the first regional Moon Shot partnership in the country.

Wisconsin college graduation rates up, but problems remain 

While Wisconsin’s college graduation rates have seen a near steady increase since 2009 and now surpass the national average, there are still notable gaps between racial groups, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

According to UW System data for the 2014 freshman class, students listed as “underrepresented minority” had a six-year graduation rate of 48%. Meanwhile, students listed as “non-underrepresented minority” — or white, other Asian American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander — had a six-year completion rate of 67%.

Through the Moon Shot initiative, UWM is working to ensure that students of color graduate at the same rate as white students by 2030. UWM also seeks to help more first-generation students and those from lower-income households graduate from college. These efforts will be data-driven and evidence-based, with ongoing monitoring of results, according to a press release.

How the money will be spent 

“This generous gift of $2.1 million is a breakthrough and a critical boost for our students. The investment allows UWM to make micro-grants that can be life-changing for students whose educations were interrupted for various reasons,” Mark Mone, chancellor of UWM, said. “This investment will advance the university by focusing on student success and help meet the needs of our region and state by providing highly skilled, in-demand graduates.”

The donation will be used to fund emergency grants for students with sudden, critical needs; re-entry grants for students looking to finish their degrees after leaving school for a period of time; and grants for students nearing degree completion who face financial barriers to continued enrollment.

“It is our hope and intent to help raise greater awareness and additional private and public support for Moon Shot and to grow a community-wide appeal to the leadership of the University of Wisconsin System, the governor and the legislature to continue and expand the vital public investment in Moon Shot for deserving young people whose lives and futures depend on it,” said Charles Trainer, spokesperson for the donor group.

“Public investment must be continued and expanded by the state,” Trainer continued, “and we believe that additional support from the private sector will follow.”

The donor group has partnered with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to marshal support for key grant programs tied to the Moon Shot initiative.

“Philanthropy is essential for advancing racial equity in higher education and everywhere that disparities prevent young people in our community from reaching their full potential,” said Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. “Bringing together our donors’ incredible generosity with UWM’s intentional focus on eliminating equity gaps for its students is a collective step toward a more thriving region and aligns directly with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s role in building a Milwaukee for all.”

The initiative ties into work that’s already underway through UWM’s broader strategic plan, which aims to create a more student-centric university and provide services that help all students succeed and graduate.

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