The latest federal data on college graduation rates reveals that Wayne State University is the fastest-improving university in the nation among public universities with more than 10,000 students. Wayne State’s graduation rates have nearly doubled between 2011 and 2017, increasing from 26 to 47 percent according to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
Gains have been particularly pronounced among first-generation, low-income and minority students.
While Wayne State’s graduation rate has increased 21 percent in six years, nationally, graduation rates have increased only two percentage points over the last decade.
“Wayne State University is proud to be a model for universities that are willing to do the hard work of transforming themselves for the benefit of students and communities,” said Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson. “The university is committed to providing the resources needed to ensure the success of our diverse student body. We will continue to work hard to provide access to a college education and support students on their journey to graduation.”
Recently, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) named Wayne State University the winner of its 2018 Project Degree Completion Award. The annual award identifies and honors institutions using innovative strategies or programs to increase retention and graduation outcomes and decrease achievement gaps.
Increasing degree attainment is a significant focus area in higher education, and is being addressed through efforts such as the APLU’s Powered by Publics Initiative. Wayne State is the lead for the urban university cluster as a result of its innovation and rapid transformation.
Focusing on boosting graduation rates began in earnest in 2011, when the university launched a Student Retention Initiative, investing more than $10 million in student success over the following five years.
“The core of the initiative was an overhaul in academic advising, leading to proactive, individualized, developmental advising driven by state-of-the art technology and comprehensive advisor professional development,” said Monica Brockmeyer, senior associate provost for student success. “As a result, each student enters the university connected to all the supports they need to be successful in college.”
The university also revised its general education program to better support students’ degree pathways. Academic supports — including learning communities, peer mentoring, study skills support, tutoring, financial literacy education and more — are available to all students. In addition, the university monitors students’ progress to degree biweekly from start to graduation, identifying barriers and addressing them. This has resulted in hundreds of smaller projects that have improved the ability of WSU students to navigate their path through college.
“While we are pleased with our progress, we are not nearly done,” said Brockmeyer. “Over time, we expect to far exceed our 50 percent graduation rate goal while closing educational disparities and maintaining our mission of access. Our challenge — and opportunity — at Wayne State in Detroit is the nation’s challenge for the 21st century American college student. Other universities are learning that they must become more like Wayne State to meet the nation’s educational needs.”
In particular, the university has increased its commitment to low-income and first-generation students through various awards and programs, including a first-generation fee waiver and the Wayne ACCESS Award, which covers the full cost of tuition and fees.
The university also created the Warrior Way Back Program, an innovative debt forgiveness program designed to re-engage adult learners who cannot return to college because of past-due balances. During the recent 2018 winter commencement ceremonies, the first nine participants in the Warrior Way Back Program were eligible to walk across the stage and receive their diplomas.
“It is exciting to see the graduation rate numbers moving up and our graduates entering the next phase of their journey,” said Provost Keith Whitfield. “Wayne State is a destination for students who are seeking a great career path, and the university has made this possible through vibrant academic programs designed to engage and support students.”
Wayne State plans to further build on its progress. The university — which welcomed the largest freshman class in its 150-year history this fall — will be continuously improving and transforming itself to further reduce educational disparities and improve graduation rates.