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Wayne State University is improving its graduation rates

Governor Snyder's budget calls for further cuts to public universities.
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Wayne State University logo in Detroit

Wayne State University in Detroit has the lowest six year graduation rate of any public university in Michigan. That’s the bad news, but the good news is the university has the fastest improving graduation rate in the country.

If all goes well, India Pleasant, a freshman from Detroit, will graduate three years from now from Wayne State University with bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

But like a lot of nontraditional students, that’s just one of many things on her plate right now.

“I wake up around 5:00 am, I get my little brother ready for school. I take him to school every morning. I start studying since I’m up so early, I go to my classes because I have early classes. Usually my classes end around 1:00 or 2:15, then I come to Southfield to go to my old high school where I coach step team, which is step practice usually every day. After that I leave and usually go straight to work at the Masonic Temple/Fox Theatre, and I go shopping for my mom often because she works and can’t do it herself,” Pleasant said.

In 2011, only 9% of African-American students were graduating in six years. For students whose parents didn’t go to college, only 18% were making it.

On top of all that, she’s a full time student with 15 credit hours, she has to help her brother with his homework and sometimes cook dinner, and she has to do her homework and get ready for class the next day.

For the longest time, students like India weren’t likely to graduate from Wayne State. In 2011, only 9% of African-American students were graduating in six years. For students whose parents didn’t go to college, only 18% were making it.

All over the country, there are huge discrepancies in completion rates, especially when you look at race and family income.

Alicia Ortez, one of many academic advisers that Wayne State has hired in a huge push to raise its graduation rates, says many students, like India, are juggling many outside obligations that need to be taken into account.

“They’re not just necessarily students getting up, coming from the residence hall, working, going to class, finding time for homework and that’s all they do,” Ortez said.

Unlike advisers of a different era, she sees her job as a lot more than just talking to students about tuition and financial aid. When students are struggling in class, her big question, is why?

“Let’s try to get that person connected with their adviser or talk to the professor or something, so that we can figure out what’s going happen so that they can do their best,” she said.

The advisers are part of a broad strategy at Wayne State. There are scholarships. India got one. There are new study requirements and a summer bridge program that helps students stay on track.

All this effort is beginning to pay off.

Last year, the six-year completion rate for all students was 47%. For first generation students, it’s up to 37%. And now, 22% of African-Americans get their degree from Wayne State.

Monica Brockmeyer, the Senior Associate Provost for Student Success at Wayne State, says the school has made progress, but not enough.

“We at Wayne State have still have large educational disparities around race and ethnicity, around income status, around first generation.”

Brockmeyer says they set a goal of getting 50% of their students to graduate from Wayne State six years.

“We set that goal because at the time it seemed like a really even unimaginably attainable goal,” she said.

But now that they’re close to 50%, Brockmeyer thinks the school will hit its goal early this year.

Pleasant says she expects to be one of the more than 50 % of students graduating from Wayne State when she walks across the graduation stage in 2022.

“Yes, you can expect me to walk across the stage in a cap and a gown and a Wayne State button that the provost gave me,” Pleasant said.

And she plans to stay at Wayne State for Law school.

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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