As we mark the first ten years of the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars, supported by the generosity of John and Tashia Morgridge, we celebrate a decade of learning – both for the students and for ourselves.
After spending much of my career in the K-12 system in Wisconsin, focused on students graduating from high school in four years, I thought this work would be similar. I thought most students complete college in four years or at least within six and was surprised to learn how difficult this can be for many students. For many reasons, life gets in the way.
We realized that money is not the only thing needed to help students graduate from college. We have questioned what determines whether a student persists and actually succeeds in completing a degree. There are social, emotional, academic and financial issues as well as pragmatic issues such as what to study. Listening to the stories of the students, we realize how complicated many of their lives are in relation to attending post-secondary school.
We continue to look at how we can provide students with more support systems to encourage them to stay in school and succeed. Our communications with the students have increased, and we recently introduced a mentorship program where older FFWS recipients help the newcomers maneuver their new life in college.
An outstanding team of researchers from the UW Madison is studying the FFWS program and its relationship to retention and graduation rates as well as employment impacts. The results from the evaluation of the program will help us to improve the FFWS program and , where necessary, make changes. We have had 10 cohorts of grant recipients. Four cohorts have had six years of time to complete a degree. We will look at pathways followed by these students and analyze them by discipline, high school, college, and region to identify successful approaches and then share the data with high school counselors and families, as well as policy makers.
Financial aid officers and other campus officials helped shape the FFWS program and its implementation; they are tremendous partners to the FFWS efforts. They continue to provide insights and guidance to the program.
Going forward, we are closely watching post-secondary trends. Will students reside at school or will more live at home? Will they be doing more of a blended learning approach to their education? How will technology influence post-secondary learning? Should we think about adult learners at some point? We must be responsive to student needs if we want to meet our mission to increase the number of Baccalaureate prepared adults in the state of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin is a unique and wonderfully diverse State. As we continue, we will keep learning how best to assure that FFWS students succeed at school and graduate with a college degree.