How an MATC Program Is Helping Students Graduate

It’s a safety net getting students to graduation.

For many Milwaukee Area Technical College students, the difference between staying enrolled and dropping out could be as simple as losing their job, an unexpected medical bill, or needing a new fuel pump for their car.   

That’s where the Local 212/MATC Believe in Students FAST Fund steps in. Organized in 2016 by the MATC chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and funded by private donors and government grants, the fund assists students with educational and living expenses that might otherwise put a degree out of reach.

It’s meeting an immense need. According to a survey from The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, over half of MATC students experienced food insecurity during fall of 2020, and 15% had been homeless.


 

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FAST Fund assisted 443 students in the 2020-21 academic year, with housing insecurity being the largest area of need, says Michael Rosen, a former MATC economics professor who now serves on the fund’s board of directors and was executive director before retiring in January. According to a survey of last year’s fund participants, 93% were able to graduate, remain enrolled at MATC or transfer. FAST Fund is likely to serve even more students this year, Rosen says, as 332 students had already received assistance as of Dec. 31.

Often, the fund intervenes beyond cash assistance. That’s the case with Bria Burris, who due to a marijuana conviction years ago was unable to receive standard financial aid. Working a low-paying job and paying tuition out-of-pocket, Burris was only able to take a class or two at a time. FAST Fund hired a lawyer on her behalf, allowing her to get her conviction expunged, receive aid and attend MATC full time. In 2020, Burris graduated with an associate degree in human services; she recently began a new position with local social services organization Community Advocates.

“They definitely helped me in so many ways,” says Burris, who was an intern for FAST Fund and now volunteers with the program. “It’s been an integral part of my life.” 

 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s March issue.

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