MILWAUKEE — All In Milwaukee is getting ready to graduate its first group of college students.

But before they cross the finish line, they’re learning a few life lessons.

Only 14% of Milwaukee high school graduates are expected to earn a two- or four-year degree, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison SSTAR Lab.

That statistic eventually led to the creation of All In Milwaukee, a college completion program that provides financial aid, advising, and program and career support to high potential, limited-income, diverse Milwaukee students.

Maayan Montoute is a senior at UW-Madison and has been a part of All In Milwaukee since high school. (Courtesy of All In Milwaukee)

Maayan Montoute is a senior at UW-Madison, majoring in business management and human resources.

She and other college students from Milwaukee attended a seminar about what it takes to get through grad school.

Although Montoute said she's not sure if that’s the route she wants to go after graduating, she said she is thankful to be a part of All In Milwaukee. She said it’s taught her how to prepare for job interviews.

“Just to kind of like get me prepared and more familiar with how I want to sell myself, holistically, just to talk about my major, my experience and how I would be a good fit and so on. That was just really helpful for me because it also connected the dots a lot more,” said Montoute.

Montoute joined All In Milwaukee as a senior in high school to be better prepared for the challenges ahead.

She said it’s made a big difference during her time in college. It even helped her land an internship with Baird.

“They were really supportive of any decision that I wanted to make and provided those resources, and I feel like they really took us into consideration, even as the program was growing and even though COVID was still a really big issue,” Montoute said. “I feel like that’s why I am even able to graduate on time.”

(Courtesy of All In Milwaukee)

Allison Wagner is the executive director for All In Milwaukee.

She founded the organization in 2018, following a model program in Minneapolis that increased college graduation rates amongst city students with little to no debt.

Wagner said she thinks that All In Milwaukee can help dramatically raise the number of low-income students of color that graduate from college.

She said there are currently 320 college students that are a part of All In Milwaukee. 92% of the students that were in the program’s first class will finish college this spring.

“We know how important diversity is in the workforce — diversity of opinions, thoughts, backgrounds, race, ethnicities. We know that we have a lot of amazing students here in Milwaukee that just need that same robust support to get through college and to become the diverse future leaders of our companies and our city,” said Wagner.

It’s already helped Montoute, who will be a first-generation college graduate in her family.

“My family is from the Caribbean and they don’t have as many educational opportunities as we have in the U.S. and things like that, so just having that in the back of my mind has been really important and has been an internal motivator for me,” said Montoute.

Thankful for this opportunity, she said she hopes to one day pay it forward to her family and the city she calls home.