All-In Milwaukee targets Milwaukee college completion crisis

An All-In Milwaukee cohort of students at UW-Madison.

Since four years, All-In Milwaukee has worked to address what it calls “the completion crisis”: too few Milwaukee students are graduating from college, preventing them from accessing many high-paying jobs in the city.

The nonprofit’s goal is to see more low-income, high-achieving students graduate from college with minimal debt. Its strategy is to provide comprehensive support from a student’s senior year of high school through enrollment in the Milwaukee workforce.

Before the pandemic, 12% of Milwaukee high school graduates earned a two- or four-year degree in six years, according to data provided by All-In Milwaukee and certified by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s SSTAR lab. And that rate could drop further in coming years, as education officials say COVID-related disruptions have disproportionately affected the enrollment and persistence of low-income and minority students in college.

Milwaukee’s pre-pandemic college completion rate mirrors national completion rates among low-income students. According to the Pell Institute, only 11% of students in the lowest income quartile earn a bachelor’s degree in six years, compared to 58% of students in the highest income quartile.

“We have a lot of work to do if we are serious about increasing our city’s diverse pool of future talent. We need to bring in these same incredible students who have excelled from high school through college,” said Allison Wagner, executive director of All-In Milwaukee.

Allison Wagner, Executive Director of All-In Milwaukee

The All-In team strives to overcome barriers that prevent students from making the transition from high school to college, semester to semester, and ultimately graduation. to their first professional job.

So far, the program has shown promising results: 93% of the 200 students it supports remain enrolled full-time at their university this spring, and 83% maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher. All of its students come from low-income families and all are students of color; 94% are the first generation in their family to attend university.

All-In Milwaukee is the first to replicate a model developed by Minneapolis-based Wallin Education Partners, which has provided support to help Twin Cities students complete college for the past 30 years. With over 5,000 alumni, this program boasts a 90% college completion rate, an 80% regional retention rate, and a 40% debt-free graduation rate.

All-In Milwaukee students attend one of eight partner colleges, with whom the organization negotiates affordable tuition and housing packages. Partner institutions include the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee, Madison, and Whitewater campuses; Marquette University, Carroll University; Alverno College; Milwaukee School of Engineering; and Wisconsin Lutheran College. The All-In Scholarship operates as a matching grant, with the university contributing the balance of the nonprofit’s contribution. Ninety percent of All-In students currently have no debt due to reduced rates and scholarships.

A $1 million senior gift from the family foundation of Darren Jackson, retired CEO of Advance Auto Parts and Marquette University alumnus, helped launch the program locally in 2018. Baird executives and his foundation were early proponents. Other corporate partners include the Ramirez family of Husco, Associated Bank, Brewers Community Foundation, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, HellermannTyton, Milwaukee Bucks, Northwestern Mutual, Weyco Foundation and others. Last year, the program expanded to serve Racine students thanks to a donation from Fisk Johnson, president and CEO of SC Johnson & Sons Inc.

When its next class of high school students is selected in May, All-In expects to serve 315 students in total. Seating is limited, Wagner said. In three years, the program has received nearly 600 applications for the current 200 places.

“We lose sleep at night because we know there are hundreds of students on our waiting list that we won’t be able to serve,” she said. “… There’s a misconception in this town that some kids will be just fine. No one will be fine, especially during the pandemic.

The first class of All-In Milwaukee, who are college juniors in their second semester.

Financial aid is a key part of the program, but All-In leaders emphasize the importance of providing academic, social/emotional, and career-readiness support to first-generation students as well.

“Equity is more than money,” Wagner said.

Once a student is accepted into the program in the spring of their senior year of high school, All-In Counselors begin working with them on the transition to college, helping them complete financial aid forms , to register for housing and to enroll in courses.

“A lot of times in high school counseling it stops once (students) are accepted and decide where they’re going,” said Irving Ibarra, an All-In Milwaukee college counselor. “A lot of first-generation students have to go through a lot of financial aid checks and paperwork that they have to turn in, and we’re asking them to get as much financial aid as possible.”

Once students arrive on campus, All-In Counselors help them tap into the support network available at their colleges, while helping to overcome particular barriers that first-generation and low-income students often face. said program director Tiffany Tardy. It might look like helping a student cover the cost of a parking pass or streamlining the process of buying books through the college bookstore. For students who have less financial security, these small expenses and logistical hurdles could mean the difference between staying in school or not.

“When there’s a need, we have to act and we have to act fast because that’s how you retain students,” Tardy said.

Eibar Robledo, sophomore at Marquette University.

Eibar Robledo, a sophomore at Marquette University and a graduate of University School of Milwaukee and Bruce-Guadalupe College, said he often looks to his advisor, Ibarra, for decision making.

“I always talk to Irving about how classes are going. If I need anything, like meal plans or books or really anything, Irving is there to help,” Robledo said.

All-In students also often connect with each other on their campuses.

“We see our students living together. We see our students joining organizations and extracurricular activities together. This is part of the added value we bring to these institutions, where not only do we help recruit and enroll students, but we retain them and make sure they feel a sense of belonging,” Wagner said.

All-In also helps students explore possible careers through aptitude assessments, personal counseling, and quarterly professional development sessions that focus on the basics of cover letter and resume writing, as well as navigating difficult conversations in the workplace and dealing with impostor syndrome, Tardy said.

“We really want them to be young, strong professionals of color in this community and then be an agent of change,” she said.

Baird executives were quick to support the launch of All-In due to the success of Wallin Education Partners in Minnesota, said Mary Ellen Stanek, Managing Director and Chief Investment Officer of Baird Advisors and President of Baird funds.

“It was a proven model,” said Stanek, who serves on the All-In board of directors and personally supports three students through the program.

Baird offered six paid internships to All-In students last year and plans to have as many as a dozen this summer. The wealth management firm is one of 30 businesses in the region working with All-In to provide internship opportunities.

Northwestern Mutual has committed $1.6 million to All-In in 2020 to provide scholarships to more than 80 Milwaukee-area students through 2024. By this summer, the life insurance company will have worked with 15 trainees from the program.

Steve Radke, president of the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, said the low college completion rate for Milwaukee students prompted the company to act.

“Simply put, we aim to change the trajectory of our hometown students and boost our city’s diverse talented population, helping us contribute to Milwaukee’s growth,” Radke said.

In light of Milwaukee’s 12% college completion rate, Wagner said an investment in All-In is more than educational philanthropy. With approximately 35% of jobs in the city requiring a university degree and more than 60% requiring post-secondary training, the credential mismatch threatens to thwart efforts by the region’s business community to increase the diversity of its workforce and its leadership ranks.

“We are not just a charity. (Companies) see us as a pipeline partner,” Wagner said. “They invest in our students and our program, but then they provide them with internship opportunities, they provide them with career mentors and soon they will hire them.

In a tight labor market, internships are an important part of Baird’s recruiting strategy. Last year, the company had nearly 200 interns in total, and its long-term goal is to convert 40% of its interns into full-time hires.

“We have continued to increase our commitment to the internship program and increase the number of internships available with the whole philosophy that we will help build our own pipeline,” Stanek said.

Wagner said it’s imperative that Milwaukee businesses seek out diverse talent locally.

“Use your HR dollars, your DEI dollars, your internship dollars,” she said. “It is so expensive to recruit diverse talent to Milwaukee. We have this whole pool of students in our own backyard. This is what we should be investing in. We need to rethink how we allocate these funds.

Robledo completed an internship last summer with Core Creative, an advertising and branding agency in Walker’s Point, and this summer will intern with Baird in its public relations department.

He discerns where he wants to land in the industry after graduation, be it agency work or a more corporate setting. Either way, he sees himself staying in Milwaukee.

“I feel like there’s still work to be done here in Milwaukee, both for me as an individual and globally, socially, and what I want to bring to this city,” he said. -he declares.

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