May 22, 2018 by Remie Verougstraete
How far would you go to ensure accessibility? For Madison Area Technical College (MATC) in southcentral Wisconsin, it’s not a theoretical question.
When Madison’s current president, Jack E. Daniels III, arrived in 2013, he wanted to assess whether the college was fulfilling its mission—specifically its commitment to provide “open access to quality higher education.”
Due to shifting demographics and economic development in Madison, many minority and low-income residents no longer have ease of access to MATC’s historic downtown campus. Consequently, it’s become too costly and difficult for them to attend classes and community events at that location.
“We wanted to be more accessible to that population and offer more resources, avenues, and wraparound student services to them,” said Ali Zarrinnam, director of institutional research at MATC.
This determination sparked a multi-year process of research and community engagement, culminating in a bold plan to leave their 100-yr old home in downtown Madison and build a new, fully-funded campus in south Madison by fall of 2019—a move that will bring education and opportunity to those who need it most.
For a public institution like MATC, proposing to build a new campus is no small thing. It requires convincing a variety of stakeholders that the move is necessary to help the school further its mission. Zarrinnam knew he would need to lean on hard facts and clear data to make a case for the move, and he praised President Daniels’ commitment to this evidence-based decision-making: “He is extremely data-focused. Just telling him a hypothesis won’t cut it.”
To achieve this, Zarrinnam enlisted the help of Analyst, Emsi’s labor market analytics tool. He viewed critical demographic and economic data, including education level, median earnings, and job availability across the Madison region. By combining this data with information from the BLS, Esri, and Madison’s internal records, Zarrinnam discovered what he calls “Opportunity Gaps”: socioeconomic discrepancies between a certain segment of the population and residents in nearby areas. Specifically, he found noticeable gaps concentrated in the southcentral region of the city. These clear, localized areas of need would become a central part of MATC’s South Campus Initiative.
For example, Zarrinnam used Analyst to assess these gaps all the way down to the zip code level. The college then leveraged that insight for site selection. “I would say 90% of the decision was based on the data that we were able to provide,” Zarrinnam told Emsi.
MATC eventually settled on a strategic parcel of land that was occupied by the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds. The new location is right across the street from Metro Transit’s South Transfer Point and just around the corner from a major Madison Area Freeway, offering a significant boost to accessibility.
Even after building internal consensus and selecting a new location, MATC faced a still bigger test: raising the funds to make the South Campus vision a reality.
Rather than requesting a referendum, MATC leadership decided to make their case directly to those with the most at stake in this move: the businesses and community members of Madison.
Once again, using clear data to prove the need was crucial to gaining support. At a series of public presentations, the Madison College Foundation shared the disparities in income, available jobs, and education that Zarrinnam and his team had identified. They used these opportunity gaps to highlight the tremendous potential for revitalization in southcentral Madison, as well as the ways that MATC’s new campus could power that growth.
For example, they used demographic data to show local business leaders the untapped labor force in the region, comprised of men and women willing to work but lacking the training and education required for good jobs in leading industries, such as technology and healthcare.
This allowed them to show how the proposed campus’s new STEM partnership with Madison Metropolitan School District and health care programs could help address these gaps. As a result, businesses would have better access to talent, enabling them to boost their own productivity while offering their neighbors a pathway to prosperity.
In response to this data-backed community outreach, a number of Madison’s largest businesses and nonprofits responded with a strong statement of support for the new South Campus.
In August 2017, Madison College announced a $1.3 million pledge from the American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation and $10 million from the Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Foundation. These two grants alone were enough to fund the purchase of the new site and the first phase of construction. But donations continued to flow in from a variety of sources, culminating in the recent announcement that MATC had received enough funding to complete all three phases at once, following a $10.2 million pledge from the Great Lakes Higher Education Corp.
Thanks to the buy-in from these and other local businesses, charities, and individuals, construction of the South Campus is scheduled to begin in June, and the new campus could be hosting classes as early as fall 2019.
To ensure that south Madison residents are aware of the opportunities coming their way, MATC is also using Emsi data to support a targeted marketing campaign.
Zarrinnam used the “Drive Time” feature in Analyst (see below) to look at wages for the fastest growing occupations within a 30, 35, and 45-minute commute of the proposed South Madison campus location.
He discovered a “night and day difference” between earning power for those living within a 30-minute drive of campus ($16.21) and workers in their broader service area ($32.58). Analyst data also revealed a corresponding gap in educational attainment.
This information will be used to deliver relevant social media and print advertising in the neighborhoods around the new campus. This includes highlighting the occupations and wages that are realistically attainable for south Madison residents who pursue further education.
From the very beginning, the South Campus Initiative was fueled by a shared vision for how the campus could transform the lives of individuals and families in the southcentral Madison area. And while data was a significant part of the process, Zarrinnam emphasized that projects of this nature are—at their heart—inescapably personal.
“In addition to the data, we did a lot of primary research with folks in the community to see where the needs were and what the college could offer to address those,” Zarrinnam told Emsi. This balanced, community-centered approach to researching and developing plans for the new campus was essential to the initiative’s success—and a key motivator for Zarrinnam himself.
“It goes beyond dollars,” he said. “It’s really about the service you provide to people.”