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Scholars of Promise

A yard sign in early September advertises ongoing registration at the Portage campus of Madison Area Technical College.

Four Portage High School graduates will attend Madison Area Technical College this fall thanks to Scholars of Promise.

The college reported last week that Portage students were among 200 who will participate in the new program, which provides tuition assistance and extensive mentorship. Scholars of Promise is run entirely through donations from MATC employees and area businesses, local campus leaders explained when the program launched in early 2017.

The money that Scholars students would have otherwise needed to pay to attend Madison College, after qualifying for financial aid, averages $1,500 and is sometimes as high as $2,000. Scholars of Promise was created to fill that gap, aiming to ensure that college education is realistic for the students who desire to attend college but can’t afford it.

Javier Neira, who manages the program, said 48 percent of Portage High School juniors and seniors would qualify for Scholars of Promise as long as they graduate high school, achieve at least a 2.25 GPA and reside in the Madison College District. Other stipulations depend on a student’s qualifications for financial aid, which Madison College leaders are eager to help prospective students figure out.

“Seventy-five percent of our students (in Scholars of Promise) are first-generation college students,” Niera said. “So that tells us there is no other family member who went through this experience.” That means the guidance Scholars offers is central to the program, Niera added.

In the first year of the program, leaders see how important the guidance has been to students, particularly in their filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms.

“It was very eye-opening for us to see how complicated it can get,” Niera said. “Without our guidance, a lot of students would be very lost through (the process). It can be very overwhelming; so we’re here for them.”

Though it’s too late for prospective college students to enroll in the program for this fall, leaders expect to open up the recruiting process later this month for students interested in attending college in the spring. Madison College leaders later this month will ramp up their recruitment efforts to include high school juniors in addition to seniors, and in January they will even reach out to high school sophomores.

Dual-credit courses are the big focus for underclassmen. “We want to make sure (underclassmen) are taking advantage of the pre-college program we’re offering,” Niera said. “It will be cheaper for them because of our contract with high schools, and we want to make sure they take advantage of this opportunity.

“We want to get the ball rolling.”

Down the road, Madison College leaders want recruitment to reach students as young as freshmen or those in middle school, since the main intent is for students to start thinking or preparing for college “as soon as possible.”

“Our purpose is to make sure they feel like college students,” Niera said of Madison College’s recruitment efforts. “We provide them with all the resources.”

Even if the recruited students don’t qualify for Scholars funding later on, that won’t matter much “because they will have had the benefits (of college) from their sophomore to senior years” in dual-credit programming.

“Even if students don’t think they’d qualify (for funding), we’re encouraging them to apply anyway,” Niera said. “We will try to provide for them (in other ways). It’s not only about the funding, but the college experience.”

Madison College in Portage will likely host its next open house toward the end of October for students interested in the program. Scholars of Promise can be used for any MATC campus.

Those interested in learning more about Scholars should call Niera at 608-246-6036, email or visit Prospective students may also stop in at the local campus located at 330 W Collins St, Portage.

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter