UWM commits to ‘Moon Shot for Equity’ to end equity gaps in higher ed

UW-Milwaukee is joining the “Moon Shot for Equity,” a national initiative aimed at ending equity gaps in higher education by 2030.

A public-private partnership with education firm EAB, the Moon Shot for Equity is dedicated to making sure that students of color graduate at the same rate as white students. The initiative also seeks to graduate more students from other historically underrepresented populations, such as those who are first generation students or from low-income households.

UWM announced the launch of the Moon Shot for Equity at a virtual news conference on Wednesday.

“The Moon Shot is an initiative to advance college completion rates and eliminate equity gaps,” UWM Chancellor Mark Mone said. “Let me stress that again: eliminate. Not ‘reduce,’ or ‘turn the corner,’ but absolutely eliminate.”

State ranks poorly

Wisconsin is last in the country in the high school equity gap for Black students, and in the bottom seven of all 50 states for Hispanic students, Mone said.

“This is not a place that we want to be. Unfortunately, we know that completion gaps continue into higher education,” he added. “We find this unacceptable, so it’s our collective goal to provide fair and equitable access to college and graduation for all of our students.”

According to data compiled by the Higher Education Regional Alliance, 56% of white 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.

At UWM, 47% of white students earned a degree or certificate within six years in 2020, compared to 36% of Hispanic students and 24% of Black students.

“We need to provide fair and equitable access to college and successful graduation for all our students,” Mone said.

First in the country

The Moon Shot for Equity includes a collaborative component with three other institutions in southeastern Wisconsin. Carthage College, Milwaukee Area Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside announced their involvement jointly with UWM at the virtual launch event on Wednesday.

They comprise the first regional consortium of higher education institutions in the country to sign on to the initiative. Leaders from the four institutions and EAB will work together to share data, ideas and best practices to eliminate equity gaps.

“Through the Moon Shot for Equity, regions like greater Milwaukee will confront racial inequality in college completion and at the same time, boost economic recovery in their communities by producing more college graduates,” EAB Chief Executive Officer David Felsenthal said.

As part of the initiative, UWM will work to complete a series of goals in taking a comprehensive approach to remove obstacles and create solutions aimed at closing equity gaps. The goals cover a range of areas including academic policies, advising and support, and taking advantage of technology to better serve students.

Fits with existing UWM efforts

Many of the goals fit seamlessly into existing UWM initiatives. For instance, one Moon Shot goal calls for reevaluating introductory-level math requirements to better align with a student’s field of study.

UWM has been moving away from a one-size-fits-all philosophy for introductory math since the implementation of the Math Pathways strategy in 2014. Math Pathways provides a variety of course offerings that can help fill a math requirement outside of traditional introductory-level classes like college algebra or precalculus.

Results are promising: Among new UWM students required to take a credit-bearing math course, the percentage who completed the class in their first year more than doubled from 24% in 2014 to 50% in 2019.

Other key details about the initiative:

  • All four institutions will receive equity-mindedness training from outside experts and implement more than a dozen research-based best practices proven to remove systemic barriers to success.
  • EAB will provide schools with technology and advisory services, as well as research that will help to enhance the work ongoing at each institution.
  • Participating institutions will partner with local high schools and community-based organizations to help more underserved students attend college by providing free resources and information on how to identify best-fit universities, search for scholarships and connect with counselors.

“We know that we need collective efforts. We know that there’s power in the sharing of best practices. We know there are great ideas in public and private, and two-year and four-year institutions,” Mone said. “If we band together, we can make a much greater difference than any of us can do on our own.”

The name of the initiative derives from another ambitious national goal. NASA’s successful moon shot more than five decades ago proved that obstacles can be overcome by fully committing and working together in innovative ways, Felsenthal said.

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