Access, retention and graduation define success at community college

Milwaukee Area Technical College's access and inclusivity work will begin with equity training and climate assessments
By: | November 24, 2020
Mohammad Dakwar, Milwaukee Area Technical College's vice president of learning, speaks to campus employees about the school becoming a Hispanic-serving institution institution.Mohammad Dakwar, Milwaukee Area Technical College's vice president of learning, speaks to campus employees about the school becoming a Hispanic-serving institution institution.

Milwaukee Area Technical College has become majority-minority over the last few years even as its hometown has some of the highest incarceration rates for Black men and the widest income gaps.

These divides also persist in healthcare, homeownership and job opportunities, says Vicki J. Martin, the college’s president.

To increase access and student success, the college has joined the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and Carthage College in the national Moon Shot for Equity to collaborate on new, equitable strategies.

“It’s not just about access, it’s also about retention and completion,” Martin says.  “We have to understand the role of race and identity, and the role of equity in the past and what that means for the future of higher education.”


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The Moon Shot work will begin at the college with equity training for staff and faculty and climate assessments, Martin says.

“We need to do things differently in admissions, we need to do things differently in the onboarding process, ” she says. “We have to use not just a single high-stakes test to determine where to place students—we need to use multiple measures.”

Moon Shot team members

Here’s how two other schools in the initiative are approaching their moon shots:

In the last case, the college will give more weight to high school grades, grades from other colleges and ACT scores to better identify the courses and supports students need.

Supports and course schedules will also have to become more flexible because 90% of the college’s students attend part-time because they also work.

Research has also shown that some students perform better in condensed, eight-week courses they can work through more quickly.

This type of schedule could allow students to take more classes and earn a degree more quickly, rather than repeatedly enrolling and unenrolling as many part-timers do, she says.

‘We can’t wait’ on equity

A key part of the Moon Shot initiative will be recruiting more diverse faculty and staff.

“Studnts need to see success. The place they can begin to see that is in the classrom with their own instructors,” Martin says.


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The Moon Shot schools will be guided by national mentors Houston GPS and Georgia State University, both of which have done pioneering work in closing equity gaps.

The four institutions will also work with the education firm, EAB, to track data, implement technology and develop new solutions.

Working together, the four institutions can share data and ideas so new strategies can be scaled regionally and nationally, Martin says.

“We can’t wait,” she says. “We need to do everything possible to make our institution a place where students of color can succeed at the same rate as their white counterparts.”