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'Higher education is a ticket': Closing Milwaukee's equity gap

TMJ4's Charles Benson talks with Marquette's President and UWM's Chancellor about their commitment to change
Posted at 10:29 PM, Jan 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-14 23:29:25-05

MILWAUKEE — Higher education is facing tough choices even before the pandemic changed everything. TMJ4's Charles Benson continues his conversation with the leaders of Marquette and UW Milwaukee on how closing the equity gap could benefit both schools and Milwaukee.


By 2025, businesses in Metro Milwaukee are being asked to increase African American and Hispanic/Latino employees by 15 percent and 25 percent for managers.

"Milwaukee is at the bottom of peer 20 metro areas when it comes to the numbers of Black and brown people that are actually getting a bachelor's degree or better, said Corry Joe Biddle, Vice President of Community Affairs with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

MMAC's Region of Choice effort to get more businesses to hire more people of color also includes better results from area colleges and universities.

"I think higher education is a ticket," said Biddle. "I think it's a huge chunk of closing that equity gap."

It also may be the ticket to help declining enrollment worries at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University.

Marquette University says its current freshmen class is 30 percent students of color - the most diverse ever.

President Mike Lovell says the school is committed to the Hispanic Serving Institutions program, which requires 25 percent of the undergraduate student body be Hispanic.

"That is one of our growth opportunities, that is the one segment of the population where I believe we can serve more students and grow our universities," said Dr Lovell, "and quite frankly that's good for us. It's good for the students and it's going to be good for the city of Milwaukee when we do so."

Right now, 47 percent of white students earn a degree within six years, compared to 36 percent for Hispanic students and 24 percent for Black students.

In 2020, UWM Chancellor Mark Mone launched a Moon Shoot for Equity effort to close the college graduation gap.

"Collectively we have about 140,000 students, college students in this region and if we can do a better job," said Dr. Mone, "we can really help answer the diverse talent needs that are there."

Corry Joe Biddle, over at MMAC, would like to see more partnership between higher education and corporate Milwaukee - not just at the senior year internship level.

Charles Benson: "Does that partnership need to happen before they graduate to help them navigate through a higher education?"

Biddle: "The business communities' resources aligned with educational resources can really help support the students, to start pulling them through a process with more clarity, really demystify in this process that they're not really being set up to succeed in."

Biddle says it's not just about creating opportunity but creating the right culture as well. She points out Historic Black Colleges represent 3 percent of all colleges and universities but produce 20 percent of Black graduates.

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