On September 9, 2015, Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) launched its free technical college program, MATC Promise, for high school graduates. It was on that same day President Obama and Dr. Jill Biden announced the College Promise Campaign—where I work—to make community and technical college free for all hardworking students.
Tonight, just twenty months later, MATC Promise students will graduate for the first time. That’s why I’m in Milwaukee joining the former Second Lady of the United States, who’s a community college professor and chair of the College Promise Advisory Board, as she delivers the commencement address and thanks each graduate as they walk across the stage.
The story of the MATC Promise is one of Milwaukee leaders coming together to address the needs of students, employers, and their community. Inspired by the Tennessee Promise, MATC President Vicki Martin led her team to launch the MATC Promise in just 143 days. By bringing together leaders from business, government, philanthropy, and education, they tackled the challenge of preparing Milwaukee’s students for a changing economy and helping employers find the workers they need to be competitive. And that’s important, because employers need well-trained workers now more than ever.
By 2020, more than 50% of jobs in Wisconsin will require more than a high school diploma, but not a bachelor’s degree – these middle-skill jobs are made possible by an MATC education and by all of America’s community and technical colleges. In fact, MATC offers 162 associate’s degrees and technical diplomas in high-demand and emerging industries that are vital to Milwaukee’s future, like health care, construction, electronics, advanced manufacturing, and mobile application development.
It pays to attend MATC. Six months after graduation, MATC graduates with an associate’s degree earn an average annual wage of $36,570, while technical diploma graduates earn $30,760. Students who want to pursue a bachelor’s degree will benefit from MATC’s partnerships with colleges and universities, which allow for the seamless transfer of credits, including the University of Wisconsin system.
The impact of the MATC Promise is significant because of the number of eligible high school students who live at or beneath the poverty level. MATC is Wisconsin’s largest majority-minority higher education institution and serves the state’s largest urban population. For many students who thought they couldn’t afford a college education, the MATC Promise can turn their dreams into reality.
Over 3,000 students applied to participate in the Promise during the program’s first year, which started funding MATC tuition and fees this past fall. Dr. Biden and I will be meeting with some of those students on our tour of Bradley Tech High School this afternoon, where over 100 graduates applied for the MATC Promise last year. The Promise is changing students’ expectations and creating a college-going culture at Bradley Tech and across Milwaukee. In partnership with the Milwaukee Public Schools, MATC Promise is inspiring students and building a pathway to student success.
What Milwaukee’s leaders have done here by building this successful program is a shining example for others to follow. MATC is already inspiring other communities to launch their own Promise programs, as close as Gateway Technical College just down the road from Milwaukee and as far away as Florida State College at Jacksonville.
Every free community college program in the nation has taken inspiration from the cross-sector team that worked tirelessly somewhere else in our country. That’s why this thread of communities now includes over 200 initiatives in 40 states; each educating and training students for the jobs of the future and building