A $5 million gift from philanthropists Ellen and Joe Checota to fund full-ride scholarships for students seeking technical diplomas and certificates at Milwaukee Area Technical College is already paying big dividends for aspiring graduates.
The Checotas made the pledge in August of last year as a two-for-one matching gift – stating that they would donate $1 million for every $500,000 the MATC Foundation raises from other benefactors, making the full-funded gift worth $7.5 million.
According to recent figures from MATC, the pledge has so far resulted in the technical college collecting $4.6 million from the Checotas and other donors – money that has thus far helped 372 students stay in school and 158 graduate.
When announcing the pledge last year, Joe Checota, the chairman and chief executive officer of Landmark Healthcare Facilities, said that he and his wife, Ellen, an artist, recognized that MATC has established the gold standard for first-rate trade and technical education in greater Milwaukee, and wanted to provide financial support for the “time-tested trade and technical education programs” there.
“Within one-year, someone living at the poverty level can earn a living wage through the certificate they receive as a medical technician, plumber, carpenter, a beautician, welder, all kinds of skills that in Milwaukee can allow someone to make a good living,” Checota said recently.
To date the Checotas have donated $3 million, with the MATC Foundation having raised $1.62 million in matching funds. Julianna Ebert, current president of the MATC Foundation board, and Frank Daily, made a $500,000 matching grant last year, releasing the first $1 million. Since then, MATC has raised another $1.12 million from more than 170 sources. Bader Philanthropies recently donated $400,000 to the cause. Other lead contributors have included the Zilber Family Foundation, which contributed $200,000; the Ralph Evinrude Foundation, which provided a $120,000 gift; and an anonymous donation of $100,000.
By providing full-ride scholarships – averaging around $3,000 per student – the funds raised through the Checota Scholarship have been critical to keeping students in school, say MATC officials.
That’s because scholarships can be used as “last dollar funds,” meaning they can be accessed once other financial assistance has been exhausted. The scholarships can keep students from having to apply for costly student loans, while also providing the money to pay for things that other forms of financial aid don’t, like equipment, clothing, transportation, and childcare.
Scholarships are available to students pursuing short-term degrees and certificates for careers in a variety of occupations, including carpenters, plumbers, electricians, medical and dental assistants, website developers, property managers, welders, auto mechanics, barbers, and cosmetologists.
For Vicki Martin, president of MATC, the Checota Scholarship has been a game changer for the college, especially when it comes to retention and graduation rates.
“I think what people don’t realize is that a student can come in and get whatever financial aid is available to them for tuition, but that won’t cover the cost of all the equipment, the tools that they have to buy, and they have to take out loans to cover those expenses,” Martin said. “So, this is really a retention tool. I think our retention rate for the Checota Scholarship recipients is around 86%, as opposed to 60% for our students who attend school part-time and have all these competing expenses, like car payments and childcare.”
Raising the rest
The MATC foundation still has roughly $900,000 more to raise to release the remaining $2 million of the Checota’s pledge.
“We have written $3 million checks to date. And we look forward to writing two more $1 million checks, because MATC is hard at work raising additional money,” Joe Checota said. “I urge businesses that benefit from this program (by hiring skilled graduates from MATC) to help meet that two-for-one matching grant.”