Enrollment in the news

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Colleges look to attract older students

Colleges are testing new tactics to increase the number of adult learners in the classroom after years of a downturn in enrollment. Postsecondary enrollment in Michigan declined by 1.7%, or 7,463 students, in fall 2021. From fall 2019 to 2020, enrollment dropped 9.2%, or 44,578 students, according to estimates by National Student Clearinghouse. The problem isn’t limited to traditional college-age students because students 24 and older experienced the sharpest relative enrollment decline. Many universities and community colleges are making efforts to reduce those numbers and, in the process, designing ways to meet the needs of older learners, such as child care options and advising services. At Wayne State University, the Warrior Way Back program is aimed at re-enrolling adult learners with some previous education. Amber Neher, adviser for the program, said that having a dedicated support team has made all the difference for adult learners once they are on campus. “We developed a strong team, including adult learner advisers, an adult learner career coach, and an adult learner liaison, so there are some folks who are specific to adult learners,” Neher said.   
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‘I wasn’t expecting this’: Colleges using pandemic funds to clear outstanding student balances

Annissa Young thought the email was a scam. The message was a little too good to be true: “Trinity [Washington University] has selected you to receive a grant to satisfy your outstanding balance … you are receiving a fresh financial start toward completing your program at Trinity!” Trinity Washington is among more than a hundred colleges and universities using federal pandemic relief aid to reset the ledger for students in arrears. The move is making it possible for thousands to register for the upcoming semester, get their diplomas or transfer elsewhere. It is a recognition of the financial strain students still face in the wake of the public health and economic crisis. Before the pandemic, some schools were exploring ways to clear a path for students in arrears to return. Wayne State University in Detroit, for instance, created the Warrior Way Back program in 2018 that forgives up to $1,500 for students who dropped out to re-enroll. It’s a model that could be replicated with the support of state or federal funding, Baker said. “There is real space for the federal government to consider ways to create programming that would say ‘we will waive these fees for you to come back to school and finish,” Baker said. “It’s pretty clear at this point that this is a problem.”
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Parent loans 'fraught with peril' as default rates hit 20, 30 percent at many colleges

One out of every four federal dollars lent for undergraduate education last year went to parents and a stunning 22 percent of that $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt, $336 billion in all, is held by people 50 and older, who typically borrowed to help pay for a child's or grandchild's higher education. There's no way of knowing how many institutions put pressure on parents to borrow. Some schools, as a matter of policy, do not mention PLUS loans unless a student has exhausted other means of paying for their education and is still coming up short. Case in point: At Wayne State University, where just 7 percent of the school's more than 1,000 parent borrowers defaulted in 2017-19, PLUS loans are regarded as a last resort. We found that parents don't always understand the implications of borrowing," says Catherine Kay, Wayne State's senior director of financial aid. "If you offer these loans from the front end, people sometimes borrow more than they need to. A parent could potentially borrow every year and the debt really adds up."
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Will standardized testing for college admissions disappear? Michigan schools offer clues

More than 1,100 colleges and universities across the country made it optional for prospective students to provide standardized test scores for admission after testing centers closed amid COVID-19 in 2020, according to a list compiled by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, an organization that has lobbied to end standardized testing for college admissions. More than 1,700 schools have extended the policy into admissions for this fall. In Michigan, that includes 30 colleges and universities this fall. The list includes many private colleges and public universities, including Michigan State, Central, Northern, Western, Eastern and Michigan Technological universities as well as the University of Michigan. Other universities are trying to make the temporary policy permanent even as the pandemic policies relax and standardized testing becomes easier. Wayne State University, for instance, launched the discussion months ago but will discuss it more formally in the months ahead, said Michael Busuito, a member of the school's Board of Governors. "We all want the same thing: what is best for our kids to advance their lives," Busuito said. 
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Has the pandemic put an end to the SAT and ACT?

Many students never made it through the test-center door; the pandemic left much of the high school class of 2021 without an SAT or ACT score to submit. Liberal arts colleges, technical institutes, historically black institutions, Ivies — more than 600 schools switched to test-optional for the 2020-21 application season, and dozens refused to consider test scores at all. To choose among all those college hopefuls, many institutions took a holistic approach — looking at factors such as rigor of high school curriculum, extracurriculars, essays and special circumstances — to fill in the gaps left by missing test scores. Take the case of Wayne State University in Detroit, where before Covid, high school GPA and standardized test scores were used as a cutoff to hack 18,000 applications down to a number the university’s eight admissions counselors could manage. “It was just easier,” says senior director of admissions Ericka M. Jackson. In 2020, Jackson’s team changed tack. They made test scores optional and asked applicants for more materials, including short essays, lists of activities and evaluation by a high school guidance counselor. Assessing the extra material required assistance from temporary staff and other departments, but it was an eye-opening experience, Jackson says. “I literally am sometimes in tears reading the essays from students, what they’ve overcome … the GPA can’t tell you that.”
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Two Michigan universities expect enrollment rebound while others still see declines

Mallory Terpstra has spent summer days visiting Michigan colleges as she enters her senior year at Byron Center High School south of Grand Rapids. Terpstra is among the students that the state's universities are trying to recruit as they seek a rebound a year after college enrollment fell 6.4% in Michigan after the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world. Regional schools are reporting fewer newer admissions and declines in returning students, while the state’s two largest research universities expect to approach or surpass 2019 admissions. Among the Michigan public universities that suffered the most in the fall of 2020 were Central Michigan and Ferris State with 17,344 and 11,165 students, respectively, 11% declines from the previous year, according to a report by the Michigan Association of State Universities. Not far behind were Eastern Michigan University, with 16,324 students enrolled, a decline of 8% from fall 2019, and the University of Michigan-Flint, with 6,829 students, a drop of 6%. Least affected were the state's Big Three public universities. Enrollments at UM, MSU and Wayne State declined 0.4%, 0.2% and 2.2%, respectively. At Oakland, enrollment dipped 2.4% to 18,555 students in fall 2020.
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A little college student debt relief goes a long way

President Joe Biden campaigned on a plan to provide $10,000 of federal student loan forgiveness per borrower (though he ultimately left the idea out of his proposed budget). Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, has called for blanket forgiveness of up to $50,000 in federal loans per student, while Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has proposed the cancellation of all student debt, at an eye-popping cost of $1.6 trillion. But as an innovative effort by a group of Detroit-area colleges is proving, even modest student-debt relief can have a big impact, especially if it’s coupled with a second shot at college completion for those who have discontinued their studies. Programs like Wayne State University’s Warrior Way Back and Eastern Michigan University’s Eagle Corps are offering former students a combination of loan forgiveness with a chance to finish their degrees. It’s a smart – and purposeful – approach to student-debt relief that could benefit hundreds of thousands of students nationwide. For former students who dropped out close to graduation and with relatively low debts, these barriers are unnecessarily harsh, says Wayne State University Associate Vice President Dawn Medley. “If you have a car and need tires but don’t pay off the tires, they come and get the tires, not the car,” she said. “But in higher education, we hold every bit of your academics hostage, and I just don’t think that that’s the way that we need to be going.”
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Public colleges in 49 states send students' debts to collection agencies, imperiling financial futures

To the surprise of many students and parents, public colleges in every state in the country except Louisiana use for-profit debt collection agencies to retrieve overdue tuition, library fees and even parking fines. Many universities add late fees to students’ bills, and when debt collectors add another 30 or 40 percent, students can end up owing thousands of dollars more than they did originally. Even as several universities have expressed concerns behind the scenes about losing revenue, some say using collection agencies isn’t necessarily more effective than other ways to collect the money. For example, in the fall of 2018, Wayne State University started a program called Warrior Way Back. Former students who owe up to $1,500 are allowed to reenroll, and for each semester they complete, one-third of their debt is forgiven. University administrators say the program has actually helped financially: Wayne State has gained $1.5 million in tuition from these students, after taking into account the debt it forgave. “Think about when you’re 18 years old and what you don’t know about managing debt,” said Dawn Medley, the associate vice president of enrollment management at Wayne State, who created the program. “We had a lot of students who owed us these past balances — they may have had veterans’ benefits or remaining federal aid money, but they’re caught. They can’t enroll until they pay the debt, and they can’t get aid until they enroll.”
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Wayne State to pilot holistic defense partnership for law and social work students

Wayne State University Law School and School of Social Work are launching a holistic defense partnership for J.D. and M.S.W. students beginning in fall 2021, with the goal of addressing clients’ legal and social support needs in tandem. Holistic defense – also referred to as community orientated or comprehensive defense – is a term used to describe an innovative approach that employs an interdisciplinary team to consider both the individual and community needs when working with a person charged with a criminal offense. Unintended or collateral consequences of arrest and conviction can include loss of housing, removal of children, and even deportation. The holistic defense approach brings lawyers and social workers together to achieve positive legal and social outcomes for criminal defendants. “Holistic defense is an underutilized opportunity to effect real change in the lives of people navigating the criminal justice system,” said Wayne Law Dean and Professor Richard A. Bierschbach. “Lawyers and social workers have the same goal – to achieve the best possible outcome for their client. By training lawyers and social workers together, we open the door for future professional collaboration that can make all the difference.” In fall 2020, Social Work students embarked on the initial holistic defense pilot year, completing an immersive field placement experience and Social Work courses focused on the intersection of the criminal legal system and the behavioral health needs of their clients. Five students who recently completed the initial requirements in May 2021 worked with lawyers and fellow allied health professional teams to assess client needs, provide resources and information, and serve as an advocate for their client as they navigate complicated social systems. “The holistic defense model encompasses much of what we do each day as social workers – working in tandem with our clients, colleagues and community partners to provide comprehensive care and empower change in our community. What is unique about this approach is the integration into the criminal legal system, which has resulted in shorter client sentences, a reduction in pre-trial detention and ultimately saved taxpayer dollars,” said Social Work Dean and Professor Sheryl Kubiak.

What other states can learn from Michigan about serving adult students

Free tuition isn't the only tool states and colleges can use to remove financial barriers for adult students. In Michigan, a patchwork of schools is hoping to bring back students who left without completing a credential by forgiving some of their debt. Wayne State University, where one in five students is age 25 or older, has been spearheading the effort. In 2018, it launched the Warrior Way Back program, which forgives students one-third of their balance to the institution of up to $1,500 total for each semester they successfully complete, for up to three semesters. Students are eligible for the program if they haven't attended Wayne State for at least two years and have a grade point average of 2.0 or higher. Because federal financial aid cannot be used for past-due balances, the program removed a major obstacle for students who accumulated debt, said Dawn Medley, Wayne State's associate vice president for enrollment management. "It wasn't that they were out of financial aid or didn't have means to pay, it's just they couldn't come up with a chunk out of pocket to clear that past balance," Medley said. "We know time is money, and especially for adult students."
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Wayne State University introduces scholarship for essential workers

Wayne State University has announced an initiative to help frontline workers get a break in the cost of education. The Frontliners Forward Scholarship will offer $4,000 dollars to essential frontline employees looking to secure a bachelor’s degree in any field. To be eligible, students will need to have first completed the state’s Futures for Frontliners program enacted by Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “Essentially, all they have to do is apply as a transfer student,” says Dawn Medley, associate vice president of enrollment management for Wayne State University. “They apply for admission, then let us know they were a part of that program and it’s an automatic reward.” For the estimated 625,000 essential workers across the state, Wayne State University is ensuring a chance at completing a bachelor’s degree on their terms. Knowing essential workers are typically the breadwinners, flexible class schedules are offered to help ease work-school balance. “We have incredibly flexible schedules. Time is going to march on and you can be five years down the road with or without a degree,” Medley says. “It can change the economic future for you and your family.”
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Wayne State announces Reconnect Transfer Award

Wayne State University is offering support to students who participate in the newly released Michigan Reconnect program through the state of Michigan. Students interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree after obtaining their associates degree through Michigan Reconnect will be considered for a $4,000 transfer award: $2,000 per academic year for two consecutive years beginning the term of admission. “Wayne State is building on an excellent program by extending the benefits of the Michigan Reconnect program to ensure a smooth transition for eligible community college students who wish to complete their bachelor’s degrees at a world-class research university,” says M. Roy Wilson, president of WSU. “Accessibility and affordability are pillars of the Wayne State experience, and we’re pleased to be able to team up with community colleges to offer this program to our students.”

A major obstacle to graduating on time: colleges hold student transcripts for small debts

Because former students owe money, colleges are withholding transcripts from more than 6.6 million Americans who’ve transferred to another school or abandoned their pursuit of higher education. These debts total about $15 billion, but in most cases the balances owed are $25 or less, according to a new study by the research firm Ithaka S+R. In Massachusetts, more than 153,000 students who owe more than $794 million cannot obtain copies of their college records. Julia Karon, who led the Ithaka study, said once a student transfers, colleges have a couple of options to collect any money they’re owed. With enrollment down and finances a major concern for colleges that were already financially-strapped, administrators could grow even more strict about holding back transcripts and even less willing to forgive small balances. A majority of students who cannot obtain copies of their transcripts are poor and attend community colleges, so a handful of states are moving to prevent the practice. California and Washington have enacted bans, while lawmakers in New York and Massachusetts have proposed similar legislation. Now some colleges are addressing the problem, too. “Sometimes for a student, any barrier is a big barrier,” said Dawn Medley, associate vice president for enrollment management at Wayne State University. Medley led the effort to ban transcript holds at the public school as long as students agree to a repayment plan. “If you have bad credit, you can still borrow money to get a car. But if you have a past due balance at an institution — that's it, you can't go on,” she said. “In the southeast Michigan region, we realized there were almost 700,000 adults who had some college and no degree and a lot of those students were locked out because of past due debt and they couldn't access their transcripts.” Medley said while first-year college enrollment is down nearly 20 percent across the country, this new, student-centered approach has helped Wayne State maintain its overall enrollment, which is flat. “We grew over five percent in our freshman class this year,” she said. “We see that as a pretty big achievement given the pandemic.”
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Wayne State receives $1.2M to help veterans complete college

Wayne State University has received $1.2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Education to supplement student success services for military veterans over five years. The $1.2 million Veterans — Student Support Services grant enhances services provided by the Office of Military Veterans Academic Excellence. The grant will serve 120 currently enrolled student veterans each academic year and provide intensive advising, career preparation, financial aid information, and benefits assistance. “Given the unique needs of our undergraduate veteran population, the VET-SSS grant will provide WSU with the additional resources needed to fully actualize our vision of truly comprehensive veteran academic support services on campus,” says Matthew McLain, assistant director of OMVAE. The grant is a collaborative effort between OMVAE and of the Office of Federal TRIO Programs’ Veterans Upward Bound (VUB) program, which helps veterans transition from the classroom to the workforce. “The VET-SSS program is designed to make a significant contribution to the student-veteran experience,” says Henry Robinson, senior director of the Office of Federal TRIO. “The Office of Military Veterans Academic Excellence and Veterans Upward Bound provide high-quality services and programs dedicated to meeting the academic support needs of this dynamic group of students.”

How to get accepted into college with a low GPA

For students who struggle academically in high school, the college application process can be especially stressful. A low GPA can prevent teens from getting accepted into top universities — like the Ivy League schools — and other selective colleges, but there are still options. Admissions experts say high schoolers can explain an academic dip in their college applications and spend the rest of their senior year making their applications more appealing. Another piece of advice: Students should discover the root cause of those academic shortcomings. Students can discuss poor grades in a college application essay, also called a personal statement, or in the additional information field on the Common Application. “Anything that the student can provide to explain that (GPA) would be helpful,” says Monica Brockmeyer, senior associate provost for student success at Wayne State University. “They should be transparent, because (GPA) is already visible to admissions officers through their transcripts. Colleges already know, so they’re looking to understand the situation and circumstances better.” She adds that admissions officials understand that “every learner is on a journey. For those eyeing a four-year college, an alternative admissions program may be the way in. If a student’s GPA is below the school’s standards, he or she may still be admitted under certain conditions. As part of the program, students receive additional academic support in their first year of college and beyond, depending on the curriculum. One such example is Academic Pathways to Excellence at Wayne State, which focuses on sharpening students’ academic skills as they enter college. “It provides them a transition period between high school and college to really understand how college learning is different from high school learning, to get extended support or even some remediation of writing skills or mathematics skills or other barriers like that,” Brockmeyer says.
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Jackson College and Wayne State University set to partner in new equity initiative

Jackson College is partnering with Wayne State University to place effort into Equity Transfer Initiative (ETI). This Equity Transfer Initiative is led by the American Association of Community Colleges to improve transfer success. This is to help students who may face barriers when it comes to transferring from community colleges to universities. The two-year Equity Transfer Initiative awards up to $27,500 to partnerships to increase transfer and completion for underrepresented student populations, including African American, Hispanic, adult, and first-generation students. “I’m delighted that Jackson College is one of 16 higher education partnerships chosen nationally to participate in this project. This forward-looking project is designed to enhance the academic completion of under-represented students and ensure their successful transfer to a baccalaureate-granting institution – in our case, Wayne State University,” said Dr. Daniel J. Phelan, president. “We are deeply grateful to Dr. Ahmad Ezzeddine from Wayne State for his leadership and partnership in this important work.”
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Michigan officials: Blacks contracting, dying of virus at same rate as whites

African Americans in Michigan are contracting the coronavirus at the same rate as whites, according to state data released Monday, reducing the disproportionate impact of cases and deaths the minority suffered during the early stages of the pandemic. State officials released data Monday showing that Michigan has seen "significant progress" in reducing COVID-19 on communities of color in the past two weeks and created a program in hopes of continuing the trend. The development comes after Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson said last week the gap has been eliminated. State health officials highlighted that Black residents account for 8.2% of cases and 9.9% of deaths in the past two weeks. By contrast, white residents comprised 88.7% of cases and 88%. Earlier in the pandemic. Blacks represented 29.4% of cases and 40.7% of deaths. The pandemic began in March. Black residents make up 14% of Michigan’s population, while whites comprise 79%, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. Wayne State's Wilson said last week this issue was not being talked about and that the progress is critical. Nearly four decades have passed since U.S. Health and Human Service Secretary Margaret Heckler’s report on Black and Minority Health reported 60,000 excess deaths annually in black and minority populations due to health disparities. "This health gap persists to this day," said Wilson, who previously served in the U.S. National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. "The experience here in Michigan with COVID-19 provides hope that progress can be made in addressing persistent racial health disparities if we focus deeply and work together."