Milwaukee’s three largest urban institutions of public education share a common goal that has taken on added urgency.
Partnering through the M3 initiative, UWM, Milwaukee Area Technical College and Milwaukee Public Schools are working to eliminate equity gaps in education. The collaboration already has helped to increase MPS high school graduation rates, helped get more students prepared for college by completing federal financial aid forms, and started a dual enrollment program to help MPS students get a taste of taking college classes.
The leaders of M3 (pronounced M-Cubed) say more work remains to eliminate inequities that existed long before the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, a recent study from UWM’s Center for Economic Development found that the Black community in Milwaukee was generally worse off in 2020 compared to 40 or 50 years ago.
“The issue of the achievement gap and inequities … this is simply holding too many people back because we know that education is the pathway to employment, income, social mobility and so many other things in our community,” UWM Chancellor Mark Mone said.
He spoke Wednesday during the latest session of the M3 Education Transformed virtual discussion series. Mone joined MATC President Vicki Martin and MPS Superintendent Keith Posley during the webinar moderated by Eve Hall, president and CEO of the Milwaukee Urban League.
“We’ve got to get this right,” Mone said about the M3 mission to eliminate equity gaps. “That’s an imperative that we all feel and we all own.”
Four years after its official launch, the multifaceted initiative continues to grow. For example, more than 200 MPS students will have gained a collective 2,500 college credits through the M3 College Connections program by the end of the Spring 2021 semester.
The program allows MPS students to attend MATC and UWM while in 12th grade and complete up to 20 college credits before high school graduation. Enrollment has grown steadily since the inaugural 32-member class in 2019.
Other key stats:
- MPS had a four-year high school graduation rate of 69.1% in 2019, up from 58.2% four years earlier
- MPS’ FAFSA completion rate of 74.2% in 2019 was up from 56.7% in 2015
Collaboration across the institutions includes academic staff working together to better align curriculums for critical topics like math, English and science. Coordinated career exploration efforts bring MPS students to MATC and UWM to engage with faculty about potential majors. UWM and MATC staff also work with MPS on outreach efforts to parents about the FAFSA financial aid forms.
The collective work has carried over through the pandemic with classes moving to a virtual environment. For instance, all three institutions continue to respond to emergency needs, such as those students who might need a computer or a steady internet connection.
At UWM alone, almost $1 million been raised for emergency grants, the student food pantry and the new Chancellor’s Student Success Fund.
“There’s power in this relationship. It’s not just a word, ‘M-Cubed,’” Mone said. “It’s true exponential power, where you have three most sizable public institutions of this type in the state that are driving this participation together.”
Hall ended the hourlong event by asking those in the audience to make sure that every high school senior they know has completed the FAFSA form so they can access college financial aid. She encouraged audience members think about what else they could do to help close equity gaps.
“Thank you again for your time and your interest in an issue that is perhaps more important than any other to the success of our entire community,” Hall said.