Student success in the news

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(Opinion) Are we taking gen ed for granted?

By Jennifer Hart Jennifer Hart, associate professor of history at Wayne State University and chair of the university’s general education oversight committee and a planning and implementation fellow for gen ed assessment, wrote an opinion piece about the steps colleges can take to create more intentional, intelligible general education programs in light of recent survey results that show disconnects and how institutions can invest in general education. “At a base level, it would require viewing gen ed less as a series of requirements (the language used in the survey) and more as a coherent program with dedicated personnel drawn, in part at least, from the faculty and committed to program improvement. An intentional program requires, at minimum, curriculum management, assessment and policy development. A general education program that cuts across multiple departments and engages all undergraduate students is highly complex and requires unique and often much more intensive forms of communication and coordination than a traditional academic department or program,” she writes. Hart says that thinking about different program elements carefully and investing in personnel and support creates opportunities to further engage faculty and highlight the intentionality of a program. Hart writes that the survey results also raise questions about marketing in the event that that students don’t necessarily understand the value of gen ed. “At Wayne State University, we’ve worked with key campus offices to craft materials and share messages about gen ed before and during orientation and crated a new website called “Engaged Gen Ed” with expanding resources to support students, advisers and instructors. These efforts set a foundation and provide support for ongoing conversations students have with their advisers as they advance through their first year and beyond. Early, ongoing and consistent messaging is critical,” said Hart. She also references WSU’s annual award recognizing instructors for their contributions to the general education program as a way of creating a culture of recognition and appreciation, the celebration of student learning outcomes, and ongoing assessment and improvement efforts to support this vital teaching work.
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4 older metro Detroiters use pandemic as chance to chase dreams

By Linda Solomon  For a third winter, many are staying home to stay safe, and Americans are quitting work in record numbers. The pandemic has prompted large numbers of people – particularly those with years of work already behind them – to reassess not just their careers but also their lives. This feature story examines the experiences of 4 metro Detroiters who found the courage to ask: If not now, when? Included in the story is Duffy Flynn Wineman of Bloomfield Hills, who is at 68 taking five courses this semester at Wayne State University and intends to graduate one week before her 70th birthday. A mother of three sons and eight grandchildren, Wineman has spent decades acting in community theater and Wayne State has given her the opportunity to achieve her dream of earning a theatre degree. “My Wayne State academic adviser is so incredible. They were so inviting. They were so supportive. They encouraged me to get my degree and said, ‘you need to do this!’ And they walked me through everything. They showed me how to do my application and how to obtain my college transcripts from almost 50 years ago…” Wineman said. 
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Decade of transformation

Wayne State University’s reputation as a national model for student success is growing. The university’s six-year graduation rate has once again improved, and it continues to close the student success equity gap among students of color.  WSU’s new six-year graduation rate is 55.8%, a 3.9 percentage point increase over last year, and an astounding 115% improvement in the last decade from 26%. Gains have been particularly significant among Black students. The current Black graduation rate is 34.6% — a 9.8 percentage point jump from just last year, and an astonishing 355% improvement in the last decade from 7.6%.   To put these gains in context, in 2018 the Association of Public Land-grant Universities (APLU) awarded Wayne State with its 2018 Project Degree Completion Award for improving its graduation rate by 21 percentage points over seven years, or an average of about three percentage points a year, which was the best in the country. Wayne State’s Black graduation rate is up almost 10 percentage points since just last year. Improvements have also been made among Wayne State’s Latinx, first-generation and low-income students. “This progress is the result of determination, innovation, and passionate commitment campus-wide, from our faculty, staff, campus leaders, and the students themselves,” said Monica Brockmeyer, senior associate provost for Student Success. “While we are proud of our strides, we know we cannot rest – especially in light of new challenges arising from the global pandemic and other societal adversities. Despite national reports that educational gaps in access, achievements and outcomes that existed before the pandemic are widening for underrepresented students, Wayne State also continues to make progress on its goal to close its student success equity gap. Nationally, in 2019 Black undergraduates were 24 percentage points less likely to graduate within six years than white students. To address the issue, the APLU initiated a major initiative, Powered by Publics, to scale student success and achieve parity in graduation rates by race/ethnicity. Because of Wayne State’s reputation for innovation, it was selected to lead the Urban Cluster of 11 institutions. 
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More Wayne State University students are graduating in push to eliminate disparities

More Wayne State University students are graduating in push to eliminate disparities  By David Jesse  There are words to fairly describe Wayne State University's graduation rate eight years ago when M. Roy Wilson was interviewing for the school's presidency: awful, disgraceful, lousy and pathetic. "It was dismal," he said recently in an interview with the Free Press. "I had never seen graduation rates for any (college) that low." They had been dreadful for some time. Only about a a quarter of students graduated from Wayne State within six years in 2011, two years before Wilson's hiring. The rates actually were lower than that overall rate for subgroups of students. Just under 8% of Black students were graduating in six years; just under 17% of Hispanic/Latino students; just over 18% of first-generation students and right around 16% of low-income students, according to university statistics. "What I recall is that when I came here, there were a lot of excuses around our graduation rate," Wilson said. "I just didn't really want to hear excuses. Let's talk about how we are going to change it." In 2021, those numbers have all risen sharply, the results of a campaign to increase the graduation rates started under Wilson's predecessor, Allan Gilmour, and ramped up under Wilson. The overall six-year graduation rate is up to just under 56%; the Black student graduation rate is about 35%; the Hispanic/Latino rate is just over 38%; the first-generation rate is almost 45% and the low-income rate is just over 47%. 
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Pandemic pivot: New supports for students who enter college lacking basic skills

The year before the pandemic, 23 percent of Michigan’s high school class of 2019 took at least one remedial course when they enrolled in a four-year university or community college. It’s too early to know the statewide remedial enrollment rate for the pandemic classes of 2020 and 2021, but some colleges in Southeast Michigan reported lower remedial enrollment during the pandemic. The enrollment rate for Wayne State University’s remedial math course dropped slightly from 7.7 percent of first-time students in the fall of 2019 to 7.2 percent in 2020. In addition to its remedial math course, Wayne State offers an introductory English course, which still counts for college credit; after changing its English placement process going into the 2020-21 academic year, the enrollment rate for introductory English dropped from 19.1 percent in 2019 to 11.9 percent. WSU has offered an alternative admissions program called Academic Pathways to Excellence (APEX) for students who show academic promise but do not meet the university’s standard admissions requirements. “It’s easy to think that we have two groups of students: those who need bridge programs and summer supports, and those who don’t need that at all,” said Monica Brockmeyer, senior associate provost for student success. “And I think we’re seeing the impact of the pandemic to be so pervasive that pretty much every student might benefit from a more intensive level of support or more granular supports that are specific to their academic needs.”  
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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.”

Wayne State University and Corvias announce recipients of 2021 Scholarship Award

Corvias and Wayne State University  today announced the two recipients of the 2021-2022 Wayne State Corvias Endowed Scholarship. This scholarship program is made possible by an endowment established by Corvias to help students overcome financial obstacles and achieve their academic aspirations. Students who are awarded the scholarship will receive $6,250 per semester, for a total of $12,500 for the academic year. This year’s scholarship recipients are Jennifer Gonzalez and Nicole Wallace. A luncheon in their honor will be held in the spring of 2022 when WSU returns to full post-COVID operations. “We appreciate our partnership with Corvias and their continuing commitment to our students,” said Mark Lawrence Kornbluh, PhD, Wayne State’s Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. “We look forward to Jennifer and Nicole joining the WSU community this fall and to the contributions we are confident they will make as Corvias Scholars on campus in the coming year.”
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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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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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Brighton mother, daughter share experiences caring for COVID-19 patients in ICU, hospice

When Michigan went into coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, Madison and Darlene Wiljanen went to work. Madison, 23, was working as a nursing assistant at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Her mother, Darlene, is a hospice nurse. "It was absolutely insane... people would transition so quickly," Madison said. "They would come in, I’d talk to them; they wouldn’t be on a ventilator yet. They would be on high-flow oxygen being monitored very closely. The next day I would come back and they would be ventilated, so nonverbal, sedated. Then two days later, they would be gone." Madison spent three weeks working with patients in the ICU who had COVID-19. It was a drastic change from the cardiac telemetry floor she worked on for months previously. She said "there was no light at the end of the tunnel" when she was working on that unit. This year Madison participated in a vaccine initiative in Detroit through the Detroit Public Health Department. Together with a group of doctors and nurses, Madison and several of her classmates in Wayne State's nursing program visited group homes in Detroit. Many of those living in the group homes had special needs, Madison said. "It’s a matter of life or death for these people," she said. "For me it was, yeah, I want the vaccine so I can have things go back to normal, but these people need it to keep them out of the hospital."
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17 teachers at Detroit school: Instead of Teacher Appreciation gifts, help us buy supplies

The Elliottorian Business and Professional Women's Club is the first club of Black business women in Detroit and Michigan and was founded in 1928. Throughout its history, awarding scholarships has been a staple of the organization’s public-service initiatives, with many scholarships awarded to students that have attended and graduated from Wayne State University. The organization’s connection to Wayne State includes former New Detroit President and CEO Shirley Coleman Stancato, who received a scholarship to Wayne State University from the Elliottorians after graduating from Cass Tech. Today, Stancato is a member of the Wayne State University Board of Governors.
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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.”

EPA awards $50,000 to student teams in Michigan for innovative technology projects

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  announced $50,000 in funding to two student teams in Michigan through its People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) grants program. The teams from University of Michigan and Wayne State University will receive funding to develop and demonstrate projects that help address environmental and public health challenges. The Phase I teams will receive grants of up to $25,000 each which serve as their proof of concept. Across the nation, this year's winners are addressing a variety of research topics including efforts to reduce microplastics waste and food waste, creating innovative and solar-driven nanomaterials, building a stand-alone water treatment system that can provide potable water for indoor use in single family homes, and removing PFAS from water using liquid extractions. These teams are also eligible to compete for a Phase II grant of up to $100,000 to further implement their design in a real-world setting. A student team from Wayne State University will research how green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) affects urban groundwater quality and flow by piloting a network of community-based groundwater monitoring stations surrounding GSI sites in Detroit.