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

Four Southeast Wisconsin Colleges Pledge To Close Racial Graduation Gaps

Emily Files
The UW-Milwaukee student union. UWM is one of four Southeast Wisconsin schools to join the Moon Shot for Equity initiative.

Updated 10/22 4:52 p.m.  

Four southeast Wisconsin schools are pledging to close racial and income gaps in college graduation by 2030.

UWM, MATC, UW-Parkside, and Carthage College are the first regional collective to join a national initiative from D.C.-based education firm EAB. The initiative is called Moon Shot for Equity.

It uses research-based strategies to break down barriers that prevent students of color and low-income students from earning college degrees.

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“It’s an extraordinary thing that students across the country — students of color, first generation students, low income students — they’re showing up on our college campuses today,” EAB Vice President for Partnerships Tom Sugar said at a virtual news conference Wednesday morning. “They’re somehow persevering through all of their challenges, they’re summoning the grit to enroll in higher education. And yet even though we admit them, we fail them.”

"Students of color, first-generation students, low-income students — they're showing up on our college campuses today ... And yet even though we admit them, we fail them." - Tom Sugar, EAB

According the Higher Education Regional Alliance, in the Milwaukee area, 56% of white students earn a college certificate or degree within six years, compared to 32% of Hispanic students and 20% of Black students.

At UWM, the six-year graduation rate is 47% for white students, 36% for Hispanic students, and 24% for Black students. 

At UW-Parkside, 48% of white students graduated in six years, compared to 26% of Hispanic students and 32% of Black students. 

Sixty-eight percent of white students earn bachelor's degrees within six years at Carthage College, compared to 39% of Hispanic students and 36% of Black students.

MATC's most recent graduation data, for students enrolling in 2016, shows 21% of white students graduating, compared to 14% of Hispanic students and 11% of Black students.

Carthage College President John Swallow said during Wednesday's press conference that schools like Georgia State University have shown that it is possible to eradicate those disparities.

“For too long, we in higher education believed closing these gaps was impossible,” Swallow said. “Now we know differently. Over the past decade, Georgia State increased its graduation rate by 23 percentage points – eliminating race and income as predictors of college completion. We’re committing to bring that success to southeastern Wisconsin.”

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Georgia State uses a number of strategies to close graduation gaps — including proactively tracking how students are doing and intervening with financial help or other support when they’re at risk of dropping out.

UWM, UW-Parkside, MATC, and Carthage plan to re-evaluate their advising, student support, academic pathways, and campus culture to identify barriers to graduation.

The work is estimated to cost at least $8 million for the four schools over the next five years, during a financially difficult time in higher education. But school leaders say this goal is too important to delay, and that they already planned to invest close to that amount on technology and infrastructure targeted at student success.

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