UWM and three other southeastern Wisconsin colleges and universities are looking at ways to help students pay for unforeseen or emergency expenses that might prevent them from finishing school.
Retention grants also can help students who may not be able to register for classes because of an unpaid bill. In the current economic environment, a financial setback like a layoff can mean the difference between completing courses or dropping out.
The grants are a key focus area of the Moon Shot for Equity initiative, which is dedicated to eliminating the racial equity gap in higher education and make sure that students of various racial and ethnic backgrounds graduate at the same rate by 2030. Moon Shot for Equity is a partnership among UWM, Milwaukee Area Technical College, Carthage College and UW-Parkside, along with education firm EAB.
The initiative formally launched in October. Campus leaders, faculty and staff met virtually over two afternoons this week to discuss upcoming efforts and share ideas in four topics across the four institutions. It was the first major regional gathering of the institutions since the launch.
UWM began offering retention grants of $500 or less in the 2019-20 academic year, targeting low-income students or others in need who were in their junior or senior years. Applications are reviewed to confirm eligibility.
Besides retention grants, the partnership also will initially focus on:
- Reviewing “registration holds” that can prevent students from signing up for classes for administrative or financial reasons.
- Looking at ways to align academic programs in key areas to make for a seamless transition for students to transfer between institutions without losing credits or needing to pay for extra credits to earn a degree.
- Using technology to help coordinate resources for students across campus, such as tutoring or counseling, and to proactively reach out to students in danger of falling behind.
According to data compiled by the Higher Education Regional Alliance, 57% of white college students in the seven-county Milwaukee region earned a degree or certificate within six years in 2020. Only 32% of Hispanic students and 20% of Black students completed degrees or certificates in that time frame.
The regional meeting this week included a discussion on equity-minded leadership and practices in higher education.
The initiative also seeks to have more low-income and first-generation students of all backgrounds graduate from college.
“The pandemic has presented even greater challenges to closing equity gaps, leading to increasing inequities in access, affordability and achievement in education,” said Phyllis King, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at UWM.
“The need and urgency to close equity gaps is as great as ever.”