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Keeping the main thing the main thing: Closing the degree divide

Kellie Sigh Photo

In August, we kicked off our 13th year of college access and success programming in Milwaukee! We continue to lean into the strategic pillars that I laid out when I first joined College Possible in June 2020: increase strategic partnerships, refine our program model, raise brand awareness, apply a DEI lens to our work, and increase financial revenue. We have made great strides this past year but there is still work to be done.

Increasing the number of scholars who are graduating with their degrees remains our singular mission. Our work focuses on the great and unseen college degree divide, influenced by race and income, not by talent or interest. Today, students from high-income backgrounds (71%) are more than twice as likely to graduate college as their peers from limited-income backgrounds (32%). The divide is even greater when we look at the City of Milwaukee where the college completion rates for Black and Latino students are even lower (11-13%).

College Possible Milwaukee is not satisfied with our 6-year graduation rate, which is currently 34%. The graduation rate reflects the percent of students finishing their bachelor’s degree in six years or less among those who started at a bachelor-granting institution with full-time status in the first fall after graduation from high school.

While the 6-year graduation rate is an important indicator for College Possible, we understand that the various paths our scholars take before degree attainment are not reflected in this number. For example, a scholar might begin their college journey at MATC, perhaps part-time, and then transfer to a four-year university to finish their degree. This journey is not currently reflected in our graduation rates. We are working to better capture and track our scholars in order to more accurately report on their success.

We have identified several strategies that will positively impact degree completion rates:

  • Replicating successful partnerships like those at MATC and UWM where over 20% of scholars attend.
  • Fostering community building on campus among College Possible scholars to expand their social safety net.
  • Reviewing our coaching model for college scholars.
  • Establishing a College Possible Milwaukee scholarship and emergency fund designed to assist scholars in removing financial barriers that may prevent or delay their graduation.
  • Launching corporate partnerships that provide paid internship and career opportunities.

Our emphasis remains on how we can best support scholars in getting to college graduation. First-generation students, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds are the fastest growing student demographics in the United States, yet these students are graduating at far lower rates than their higher income peers. College Possible unlocks opportunities for these students so they have equitable access to higher education and the expanded employment opportunities a college degree can afford.

College Possible students are the motivated, talented and skilled leaders our communities need to thrive. And many of our alumni return to their home communities — disrupting the cycle of poverty and inspiring future generations of leaders.

Join us in our mission. We can do this together by supporting students as they navigate systemic barriers in higher education. Help College Possible provide students with the resources and support to be their own change agents.

Click here to learn more about our work in Milwaukee.

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