Mailyn Santibanez-Tanon was the 2021 valedictorian of Milwaukee Public School's Reagan High School. The first-generation student knew her parents couldn’t afford to pay for college, so she planned to attend technical college instead.
To say her plans have drastically changed is an understatement.
All-In Milwaukee, a college completion program that provides financial aid, advising and career support has been quietly changing the lives of hundreds of limited-income, high potential students in Milwaukee like Santibanez-Tanon.
Santibanez-Tanon, 19, is now a sophomore at Marquette University. She’s on the dean’s list in the College of Business administration with a double major in accounting and supply chain management. And has already completed an internship at Johnson Controls.
Now she has plans to study abroad and has two more internships lined up at Johnson Controls and Deloitte. She hopes to become an auditor.
"It was a long shot to ever aim for Marquette," Santibanez-Tanon said. "But it has been amazing. It has been a ride."
All-In Milwaukee is based on the successful model of Wallin Education Partners in the Greater Twin Cities Area. The Milwaukee program currently has 415 total students, all receiving discounted tuition at eight partner universities and one-on-one mentoring throughout their college careers.
The program has worked. This spring, the first cohort of students is graduating.
Of the 41 students who enrolled four years ago, 29 are graduating, and another eight are expected to graduate in the next one to two years, said Allison Wagner, executive director of All-In Milwaukee. That's a 90 percent success rate.
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Only 14 percent of Milwaukee high school graduates go on to earn a two-year or four-year degree within six years, according to data from the state Department of Public Instruction.
Eighty percent of this year’s All-In Milwaukee graduates are projected to have no college debt, and nearly all of them have jobs lined up in Milwaukee. The only exception is a student who is headed to law school at the University of Chicago, Wagner said.
"We’re so proud of the students who are achieving this remarkable life milestone, especially when statistics tell us the odds are greatly stacked against them," Wagner said. "Their success shows having access to the right kind of support may be the most decisive factor in helping low-income, diverse students graduate college and realize the increased earning power that comes with a college degree."
Beyond improving the outcomes for students, All-In Milwaukee has been trying to fight "brain drain" in Milwaukee, Wagner said.
Northwestern Mutual was an early partner of the program when it started five years ago in Milwaukee.
"There was no shadow of a doubt, when we placed this bet, that investing in Milwaukee was going to pay off. And it already is," said Amy Hanneman, chief diversity & inclusion officer at Northwestern Mutual. "We're actually able to see after just a few short years these young, talented individuals able to go off and start their lives. And to be a part of that, is just amazing."
All-In Milwaukee works with more than 40 different high schools and community groups including the Boys & Girls Club to choose the students who are accepted to the program. Fundraising by the organization covers costs, and there is only a 30 percent acceptance rate, despite having more than 50 corporate partners, Wagner said.
The program recently named the next 125 students to its next class, who will begin college in the fall. There are 1,000 more students on the waiting list for the program.