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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

MATC Accepting ‘Gap Year’ Applications For High School Grads Undecided About College

Emily Files
MATC is launching a new "gap year" program to help recent high school graduates figure out their next steps.

A new program from Milwaukee Area Technical College is aimed at recent high school grads who are taking a “gap year” before they decide whether to go to college or start a career.

The MATC Gap Year program was created in partnership with NEWaukee and is currently accepting applications from those who graduated high school during the pandemic – in 2020 or 2021.

It’s a one-day-a-week, paid opportunity where participants will get a taste of several career paths, meet local employers, and get advice on college options.

NEWaukee Chief Ideas Officer Jeremy Fojut reached out to MATC with the idea when he heard about an increase in the number of high school graduates taking a gap year.

"How does a university build a strategy to engage people if that's going to be behavior shift in the population?" Fojut said.

MATC Vice President for Advancement Laura Bray said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused even more uncertainty for high school graduates.

"That rising trend could be a bigger problem, and especially when we have COVID going on, we need something that brings people back," Bray said. "And there's going to be more instances of people maybe opting out or taking a gap year. Let's do something to solve this that can get people back on a path for their careers."

In Milwaukee County, most high school graduates never attend college. That sets those grads up for fewer economic opportunities, and creates a skills gap in the workforce.

"In all the research that we look at, a degree is really important," Bray said. "The statistic is that 62% of jobs in Wisconsin will need a degree that's beyond high school, but as we stand here today in Milwaukee County, only 37% of our population has a degree beyond high school...So we have to throw multiple, multiple solutions at this challenge."

The program starts Jan. 20 and runs through March 24. Each Thursday, participants will meet employers and learn about a different field. There is a $1,200 stipend to compensate participants for their time.

"So it really is to try to jumpstart that career planning but do so in a fun, experiential way that is not as costly as starting in a class and not knowing if that’s your route," said Bray. "And it certainly is something that gives them an opportunity to – it’s OK to take a step back and figure out what’s next."

Applications for the program are due Oct 31. Applicants must have a household income under $75,000. The pilot year of the program is capped at 25 participants, but Bray said the goal is to scale it up depending on demand.

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Emily has been reporting on Milwaukee-area education for WUWM since 2018.
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