For many Milwaukee Area Technical College students, the difference between staying enrolled and dropping out can be as simple as losing your job, an unexpected medical bill, or needing a new fuel pump for your car.
This is where the Local 212/MATC Believe in Students FAST Fund steps. Organized in 2016 by the MATC chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and funded by private donors and government grants, the fund helps students meet study and living expenses that might otherwise put a degree out of reach.
It meets a huge need. According to a Hope Center for College, Community and Justice survey, more than half of MATC students experienced food insecurity in fall 2020 and 15% were homeless.
The FAST Fund helped 443 students in the 2020-21 academic year, with housing insecurity the greatest need, says Michael Rosen, a former economics professor at MATC who now sits on the board of the FAST Fund. fund and was executive director before retiring in January. According to a survey of last year’s fund participants, 93% were able to graduate, remain enrolled in MATC, or transfer. The FAST fund is expected to serve even more students this year, Rosen says, as 332 students had already received aid as of Dec. 31.
Often, the fund goes beyond cash assistance. Such is the case of Bria Burris, who, due to a marijuana conviction years ago, was unable to receive standard financial assistance. Working in a low-paying job and paying his tuition out of pocket, Burris could only take a course or two at a time. FAST Fund hired a lawyer on his behalf, which enabled him to have his conviction overturned, receive support, and attend MATC full-time. In 2020, Burris graduated with an Associate’s degree in Human Services; she recently started a new position with the local social service organization Community Advocates.
“They’ve definitely helped me in a lot of ways,” says Burris, who was an intern for FAST Fund and now volunteers with the program. “It’s been an integral part of my life.”