Low-income students will be able to attend Gateway Technical College for free starting in the fall of 2017 through a partnership between area businesses, state and federal government called the Gateway Promise.

The Gateway Promise hopes to increase enrollment in the technical college system by targeting high school seniors with the hope of getting them into the workforce quicker and increasing their wages by accessing higher paying jobs sooner.

Part of the College Promise Campaign, the program is modeled after Governor Bill Haslam’s (R-Tennessee) program and President Barack Obama’s America’s College Promise PlanTennessee, Oregon, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Oakland California have similar programs, which have all seen higher enrollment in their respective community colleges through promise programs.

James Schuelke, deputy director of civic nation at America’s College Promise Campaign, explained that helping low-income students’ access technical colleges is a bi-partisan issue.

“Your Senator, Tammy Baldwin has put forward legislation supporting a national model for college programs just like yours,” Schuelke said. “The Gateway Promise and many of these programs answer President Obama’s for increased college accessibility and affordability for students. Gateway serves as a model for the nation of what can be achieved when community leaders come together to create economic opportunity and a clear path into the middle class.”

But with a number of high school students attending the announcement and the meeting being streamed to area high schools, Schuelke made a point to talk to students directly.

“Ultimately the investments made by companies like SC JohnsonSnap-On and InSinkerator is an investment in you. The job market in southeast Wisconsin is strong so long as you have the desire and the skills to succeed. That’s why Gateway is here to give you the tools you need to get ahead,” Schuelke said.

Who’s Footing The Bill?

A federal-state partnership, the America’s College Promise Act awards grants to states that waive community resident tuition and fees for students. Low-income students can qualify for grants through the federal government, which will pay for about 3/4 of the cost to attend community college.

The Gateway Promise plans to fund the remaining amount through an endowment fund through the Gateway Technical College Foundation, which hopes to raise a total of $3 million to help fund the scholarships. But the group has already raised $1.5 million from area businesses. Of the $1.5 million raised, SC Johnson and Fisk Johnson donated $700,000.

“We’re proud to support a program that will enable people to affect change and chart a new direction in their lives,” Johnson said. “A quality education is critical to the success of our youth and our community.”

Once enrolled, the students will also receive support and mentoring services as part of the program. But Albrecht stressed that the college also focused on how the program addresses the needs of businesses.

“It’s important that this be used as an economic development tool — that when companies consider where they are going to locate that they know that their employees’ families will have access to education at little or no cost,” Albrecht said. “This will be a driver for businesses in our region.”

Capitalizing on its partnerships with area businesses, including SC Johnson, Snap-On Tools, Modine, InSinkerator and Ocean Spray; the college hopes to expand its relationship with area businesses and attract new business.

Who Qualifies

The Gateway Promise program is available to all current high school juniors attending schools in Racine, Kenosha, and Walworth counties that are eligible to attend college through the federal financial aid program. Through the Gateway Promise program, students can enroll in one or two-year programs at Gateway Technical College. Starting with high school students that graduate in June 2017, those who qualify will be able to school in the fall for free.

Students are required to have a composite score of 16 on the ACT, have at least a 2.0 GPA by the end of their junior year in high school, apply to Gateway Technical College by Feb. 1 of their senior year, and enroll as a full-time student in the fall immediately following graduation. If students qualify, they will receive funding for program tuition and fees for six semesters of enrollment.

“This program is about access, success and college completion,” said Zina Haywood, executive vice president and provost for Gateway Technical College.

Students will also be required to keep up a 2.0 GPA while in school, take part in student engagement and attend career planning workshops to stay in the program.

“I know it seems like this seems to be too good to be true, but in the immortal words of Bruno Mars… Don’t believe me? Just watch,” Hayward said.

Why The Program Is Important

About 10 percent of all high school graduating seniors in Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties attend Gateway Technical College. Within three years that number jumps to 37 percent of those students attending Gateway. But Albrecht wants to see the number of students choosing to attend Gateway right out of college increase.

“When a student chooses Gateway over another campus, it shortens their entrance into the workforce,” Albrecht said. “So realistically we would like to see that number at 40 percent.”

In 2011 the campus hit a peak enrollment at 6,000 full-time equivalents with 25,000 students attending Gateway, but because the economy has improved the number of direct enrollment has declined to 5,000 full-time equivalent.

But Albrecht said the biggest challenge he’ll face is to continue to champion the message to high school juniors.

“We’ve got to keep telling our story to students and parents at every possible moment,” he said.

 

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.

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