January 24, 2023

Wayne State expands debt-forgiveness program to enable former students with debt — but no degree — a way back

Returning students are welcomed back to Wayne State University through the Warrior Way Back program.

Wayne State University today announced an expansion to its popular Warrior Way Back program, a national model to provide access and opportunity to students who left the university with debt and without a degree. The updated program has expanded the threshold for debt forgiveness, now enabling students with an outstanding balance of up to $4,000 to re-enroll and “learn” away their past-due balances and earn a college degree. When Warrior Way Back launched in 2018, the debt threshold was $1,500. 

“When we introduced Warrior Way Back, we wanted to challenge the widespread practice of account and transcript holds that have unnecessary punitive effects, which disproportionately affect low-income students and exacerbate racial inequities,” said President M. Roy Wilson. “Wayne State is investing in the success of these students – and the successes they will bring their communities and employers – because we believe everyone should have equal access to higher education. We’re thrilled to be able to help even more Warriors re-enroll and achieve their aspiration of completing a degree.”

Nearly 400 students have enrolled in the program, with 125 completing their degree and more currently on the path to graduation. The recently expanded debt threshold makes thousands more students eligible, and Wayne State plans to re-engage with approximately 6,700 former students who stopped out before earning their degree. 

Warrior Way Back students will reduce their past-due balances by one-fourth at the end of each successfully completed semester until the debt is eliminated. Upon re-enrolling, students will have access to a whole suite of robust services and resources specifically designed to help adult learners reacclimate to the university and succeed. 

“I felt something missing from my life – I was serving my community and achieved the so-called dream of financial stability, a house and children, yet I questioned how I could promote educational values to my children if I didn’t complete my bachelor’s degree,” said Jennifer Oles, a Warrior Way Back student who re-enrolled after nearly two decades away from Wayne State and graduated in December 2022. “The Warrior Way Back program walked me through every step of the process.”

A dedicated group of professionals, the Adult Learner Success Team, is equipped to help returning students navigate financial aid and understand their academic progress to develop a plan for graduation. Bolstered by generous support from a Kresge Foundation grant, the team includes a career coach and peer mentor specializing in adult learner needs. 

“We have a lot of admiration and compassion for students who choose to return and complete their degree. We know that re-enrolling takes a great deal of courage, and we’re here to help at every step.” said Amber Neher, who coordinates Warrior Way Back and oversees the Adult Learner Success Team. “Returning students have a unique set of needs, and we’ve built a community of support and encouragement to help them achieve their goals.” 

In creating a new approach to university debt forgiveness, Warrior Way Back became a national model to support returning students in completing their degrees while meeting growing demands for an educated workforce. The program has been recognized by the Lumina Foundation, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, NPR, and Inside Higher Education, among other outlets and organizations. 

Launched with support from the Detroit Regional Chamber, Warrior Way Back contributed to Detroit being named a Talent Hub in 2018 by the Lumina Foundation. The designation recognizes the city and region’s ability to attract, retain and cultivate talent, particularly among today’s students — many of whom are people of color, the first in their families to go to college and from low-income households. The program’s expansion demonstrates Wayne State University’s commitment to the state’s 60x30 goal of increasing the number of Michiganders with a college degree or professional credential to 60% by the year 2030. 

“Warrior Way Back not only serves returning students, it supports economic growth in Detroit and Michigan,” said Ahmad Ezzeddine, vice president for academic student affairs and global engagement. “A college degree provides a pathway not only to a well-paying job but also prepares and gives you the tools to be a lifelong learner. This program reopens that path for thousands of Michiganders, whose success will contribute to our state’s workforce.” 

In addition to Warrior Way Back, Wayne State offers other tuition pledge programs and robust financial aid to make college more affordable and increase access for all students. In 2022, Wayne State’s institutionally funded financial aid totaled nearly $98 million. 

To learn more about the Warrior Way Back Program — and to see if they qualify — students should visit go.wayne.edu/wayback. An online application is available, and students can begin their journey back to Wayne State by attending an online information session; participating in an in-person, college-specific event; or scheduling an advising appointment. 

Students can also contact the Adult Learner Success Team at warriorwayback@wayne.edu, or schedule a consultation.  

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