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Great Lakes grant helps PEOPLE Program expand in Milwaukee, Menominee Indian school districts

May 19, 2015 By Susannah Brooks

The University of Wisconsin–Madison is at the forefront of the movement to better prepare children from underserved communities for success in college and the workforce. A major new grant will help develop new approaches.

UW-Madison’s PEOPLE (Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence) Program will receive a $600,000 College Ready grant for 2015-2017 from Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation.

Patrick Sims

Patrick Sims

“The Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement and the PEOPLE Program, the division’s largest unit, are strongly committed to increasing the number of diverse students graduating from UW–Madison,” says Patrick Sims, vice provost for diversity and chief diversity officer. “Access and exposure are two key concepts that drive our efforts to increasing the number of diverse students graduating with degrees in such fields as science, technology, engineering, and math. Because of the amazing support from Great Lakes, we are better equipped to ensure student success, particularly for underserved students from the state of Wisconsin. We look forward to a long and fruitful partnership.”

PEOPLE is one of nine programs selected throughout the Midwest to improve math and English skills prior to college admissions, so that remedial courses at the freshman college level are bypassed and students are fully prepared for success in gateway classes needed to earn a college degree in a timely manner.

This approach is especially important for students hoping to pursue careers in math-centric areas such as STEM fields or business. Remedial coursework does not count towards a degree — and the added time and cost often take students off the path of majoring in certain subject areas.

“When people talk about an ‘achievement gap’ in math and English, I often refer to it as more of an ‘opportunity gap,'” says Jacqueline DeWalt, principal investigator and director of external relations, partnerships, and development for the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement.

“Many of these students are very capable of achieving at high levels, and distinguish themselves in other ways. But they may not have had the opportunities that other students have had: tutoring, access to advanced placement coursework, classes that stimulate their curiosity and challenge them to achieve at higher levels.”

Thanks to Great Lakes, these students on the cusp of college readiness will receive two full years of extracurricular instruction, increased academic rigor and additional support services. The funds will also act as seed money to help expand these opportunities to younger students in the future.

PEOPLE has historically offered academic-year tutorial and enrichment services to students in the Madison Metropolitan School District. For the first time, the program can expand these resources to 100 PEOPLE high school students in the Milwaukee Public School District and Menominee Indian School District.

“These services have been requested continually over the years by Milwaukee and Menominee students, parents, school officials, and community members,” says DeWalt. “We’ve seen the difference that these types of services have made to students in the Madison area, so we’re delighted to be able to expand these opportunities to students around the state.”

In partnership with UW–Madison faculty from the English and mathematics departments, including department chairs Caroline Levine and Gloria Mari-Beffa, PEOPLE’s teaching specialists have designed a backwards approach to the curriculum. Instead of preparing to approach college-level work during the college years, the program integrates college freshman-level math and English into the pre-college curriculum.

“By providing access to college-level work early on, not only will students’ ACT scores improve — improving their chances of college admission — they will also have mastered critical higher level content area skills which will allow them to successfully enroll in and matriculate through a wider range of college majors and career options,” says DeWalt.

The PEOPLE Program’s mission is to help students successfully make the crucial transitions from middle school to high school, from high school to college and from college to graduate school or the workforce. In doing so, the program makes college accessible to more historically underserved, students of color, low-income and/or first-generation college students from throughout the state of Wisconsin.

More than 1,300 students currently participate in this pipeline program, ranging from second grade through the to the completion of an undergraduate college degree. To date, the PEOPLE Program has graduated 359 students from UW–Madison.

Since 2006, Great Lakes has committed nearly $130 million in grant funding to promote higher education access and completion for students of color, low-income students, and first-generation students. For additional information, visit