More MATC Students Succeeding Thanks to Pathway Resources and Partnerships

Advisors, retention coaches and support personnel help increase graduation and retention rates

Mark Feldmann,

February 16, 2024

Graduate rate

I really needed to utilize these resources, especially after not being in school for all those years. Once I started, I decided I was going to finish. I wasn’t going to quit.

Suzanne Seilers MATC Human Service Associate graduate

Suzanne Seilers got serious about college later in life.

As a teenager, she had an artistic soul, an eye for fashion and an ear for music, so she briefly attended a few theater courses at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee after graduating from Cedarburg High School in 1979.

“It wasn’t for me and I didn’t do well,” she admitted. “But back then, I didn’t really have any support systems.”

More than 40 years later, she found the support she needed to succeed at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Instead of attending college, Seilers worked for years as a licensed massage therapist. She also struggled with alcohol. She went into rehab 12 years ago, got sober, decided to become a substance abuse counselor and headed to MATC.

As an older student back in school after decades away, Seilers worked with her MATC advisor, Maggie Ehlert, and spoke almost weekly to her retention coach, Kim Blackwell, to schedule classes, manage her financial aid, and stay on track. With their help, Seilers earned an associate degree in the Human Service Associate program in December 2023.

“Kim was available to her for assistance with so many things, and believe me, Suzanne utilized every single opportunity,” Ehlert said.

“I could always get a hold of Kim and Maggie,” said Seilers, who is now taking classes to get her counseling certification. “I really needed to utilize these resources, especially after not being in school for all those years. Once I started, I decided I was going to finish. I wasn’t going to quit.”

Seilers is one of thousands of MATC students who have stayed on track and graduated thanks to organizational changes, educational partnerships and academic resources implemented by the college in the past six years — changes that have helped MATC substantially improve its graduation and retention rates.

In 2018, the college introduced a Guided Pathways educational frramework, a system that builds effective and efficient paths for each student and provides support through a strong advising process, multiple engagement opportunities, and embedded academic and nonacademic assistance. In October 2020, MATC partnered with EAB, a provider of higher education research, technology, and enrollment solutions, to boost student success by 2030. 

A report issued by EAB in January 2024 showed that MATC had:

  • Increased its 150% graduation rate, which is defined as finishing a two-year associate degree within three years, among first-time, full-time degree-seeking students by six percentage points to 24% in Fall 2020 from 18% in Fall 2018
  • Increased its fall-to-fall student retention rate among first-time degree-seeking students by 13 percentage points to 54% in Fall 2022 from 41% in Fall 2020

“We have seen clear, demonstrable impacts from our work,” said MATC President Vicki J. Martin, Ph.D. “The difficulty in improving the graduation rate at institutions such as ours is well documented. Only through thoughtful planning, dedicated action and continual improvement to our processes can any meaningful change be made.

“This significant growth in our most important metric around student success is an incredible accomplishment,” she added. “There is always more work to do. Yet these are successes worth celebrating.”

Another success story was Jonathan Perez, who wanted to fix cars for a living. At first, he planned to enroll in MATC’s Automotive Technology program, then decided he wanted to work on big diesel vehicles, construction equipment and heavy trucks. 

He switched his attention to MATC’s Diesel and Powertrain Servicing program and headed to the office of MATC’s Manufacturing, Construction and Transportation Pathway for advice and assistance.

Erik Riley, his Pathway advisor, told him the diesel program was full, but added his name to the waiting list.

A few days later, Perez got a spot in the program. A few weeks after that, he received a $1,000 scholarship from All Within My Hands, an initiative started by the rock band Metallica to help students in “heavy metal” fields, including automotive/diesel technology, truck driving, computerized manufacturing, HVAC and welding.

Perez graduated in the spring of 2023 and quickly got a job in the field, Riley said.

“Jonathan never hesitated to connect with the Pathway when needed and never let challenges in the process derail him from reaching his goals,” Riley recalled. “Thanks to his persistence, Jonathan was able to take full advantage of his educational experience. In addition, his leadership skills inspired others in his program to be frequent visitors in my office as well.”

The hard work of the past six years has put MATC on the path to help even more students succeed like Seilers and Perez, Dr. Martin said.

“Six years ago, the faculty and staff of MATC gathered and we shared some sobering statistics on student success,” Dr. Martin said. “We needed to do better, we needed to be student-ready, and we needed to build systems, processes and a culture that achieved better results. Other colleges have done it, and we could as well.

“This is a foundation of growth upon which we can continue building,” she added. “The growth may not continue in a steady or linear way — we know there can be setbacks — yet this affirms those statements we shared six years ago. Today we can say we did and we will continue to do better.”

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 30,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

About EAB: At EAB, our mission is to make education smarter and our communities stronger. We work with more than 2,500 institutions to drive transformative change through data-driven insights and best-in-class capabilities. From kindergarten to college to career, EAB partners with leaders and practitioners to accelerate progress and drive results across enrollment, student success, institutional strategy, and data analytics. We work with each partner differently, tailoring our portfolio of research, technology, and marketing and enrollment solutions to meet the unique needs of every leadership team, as well as the students and employees they serve.