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

AFT's Randi Weingarten visits Milwaukee to support MATC union-run financial aid program

AFT President Randi Weingarten poses with MATC students who received FAST Fund financial support.
Emily Files
AFT President Randi Weingarten (second from right) poses with MATC students who received FAST Fund financial support.

The president of the nation’s second-largest teachers' union was in Milwaukee Thursday to throw support behind a pioneering college affordability program at MATC.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten praised the faculty-led MATC FAST Fund. It’s an emergency financial aid program that provides grants for students at risk of dropping out due to small amounts of debt or unexpected bills. The FAST Fund is operated by the AFT Local 212, the MATC faculty union.

Weingarten said this program is a small but important step towards combating the nation’s college affordability crisis.

"We need to figure out how we make this social compact real — that if we tell young adults to go to college, and we say this is an opportunity agent, then we give them a chance to actually do this in a level playing field," Weingarten said. "College should not just be the provenance of the rich. We need to give a level playing field for everybody else."

Weingarten announced a $150,000 gift for the MATC FAST Fund and five similar programs at other Midwestern colleges. FAST Fund Director Liz Franczyk said it would be equally divided among the six institutions.

"This grant will allow us to combat basic need insecurity while advocating for change on an institutional, local and regional level," Franczyk said.

Franczyk emphasized that despite college, state and federal financial aid, Wisconsin technical college students still have an average unmet financial need of more than $8,000.

Yolanda Haire, an MATC nursing student, said the FAST Fund helped her when she was financially struggling after a divorce.

"Because of that, I was able to stay in my house and not lose my house," Haire said. "I was able to pay my water bill. So it has helped me tremendously. I just don’t know what I would have done without it."

The FAST Fund has grown exponentially since it was founded six years ago. In its first year, it helped 26 students. Last year, it helped 765 students with about $220,000 in grants.

More colleges and universities are working to address the fact that students are often derailed from their degree programs by relatively small, unexpected expenses. For example, UWM is piloting a "retention grant" program to forgive small amounts of debt students owe the school.

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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