New M-Cubed initiative aims to ease transition of MPS students accepted to UWM

A new initiative involving UWM aims to help ease the transition of Milwaukee Public Schools students from high school into college.

The program, called Smart Start, will include features such as the ability for MPS students who plan to attend UWM to work with math instructors over the summer to help improve math placement. Once their freshman year begins, they attend academic success workshops and community events that offer support and engagement.

The goal of Smart Start is to address the education phenomenon known as “summer melt,” which occurs when high school seniors who plan to go to college in the fall never actually enroll. That is the case with roughly 10% to 40% of high school seniors nationally each year, according to Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research.

UWM helped establish the Smart Start program as part of the M3 (pronounced “M-Cubed”) partnership with Milwaukee Area Technical College and MPS. Funding for the first two years of Smart Start was provided by Herb Kohl Philanthropies, Kohler Co., and UW Credit Union through the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County.

Program launches this summer

Applications are being accepted through May 10 for the first year of Smart Start, which will launch this summer. M3 organizers hope that 125 MPS students who plan to attend either MATC or UWM will participate in the first year of Smart Start.

The overall summer melt rate at UWM is lower than the range cited by Harvard, with about 7% to 8% of students who plan to attend failing to enroll in the fall. However, the summer melt rate of MPS students admitted to UWM is higher, at 9% to 14% over the last three years.

Students of color and students who would be the first in their families to attend college are disproportionately affected by this so-called “summer melt.” Among seniors from any high school admitted to UWM, the rates are higher among African American (7% to 10%), and Latinx students (8% to 12%) compared to white students (6% to 7%).

“We do want to acknowledge that transition to college and how difficult it can be,” UWM Chancellor Mark Mone said during a recent M3 virtual event about Smart Start. “We know the pandemic has exacerbated many of those challenges.”

Better chance to succeed in college

Smart Start, Mone said, will give MPS students a better chance of not only arriving at MATC or UWM after their senior years, but succeeding once they get to college.

“There are a lot of things that our institutions are doing once students get here,” he added. “But it’s particularly important to get them here.”

Smart Start is open to any MPS senior who has accepted admission to UWM or MATC.

For UWM, Smart Start is the latest initiative that has arisen from comprehensive efforts over the last couple years designed to ensure that students of all backgrounds graduate at the same rate by 2030, and to create a more student-centric university.

It’s also the result of combined efforts with MATC and MPS through M3, the education partnership among Milwaukee’s three largest public education institutions.

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