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Member of the Month December 2019: Wayne State University

The Detroit Regional Chamber’s December Member of the Month is Wayne State University for its innovative approaches to expanding opportunities for postsecondary degree completion in Detroit and across the region, as well as for the exceptional leadership demonstrated by President M. Roy Wilson since beginning his tenure six years ago..

Wayne State partnered with the Chamber, Oakland University, and Henry Ford College to launch a debt forgiveness program with a goal to reach nearly 700,000 adults in the Detroit region who have dropped out before earning a degree or certificate and remove barriers for them to return to school. Wayne State’s Warrior Way Back debt forgiveness program, provides a way for students who left the university without a degree to reduce their debt by one-third for every completed semester until their balances reach zero.

Additionally, in October, Wayne State established the Heart of Detroit Pledge, which offers free tuition to all graduates of Detroit high schools starting in 2020 and beyond. Wayne State is helping to grow Detroit’s talent base, and its programs launched thus far notably align with the Chamber’s goal to help the region achieve 60% postsecondary attainment by 2030.

Earlier this month, the Chamber also honored President M. Roy Wilson with “The Daniel Little Award” for his profound commitment to better serving his students. Read more.

In the following Q & A, key leaders at WSU share insight on the impact of the Warrior Way Back, the transformational results of President M. Roy Wilson’s leadership, and what ultimately led to creation of the Heart of Detroit Pledge.

Q: What are some key driving points that led to the establishment of the Heart of Detroit Pledge? What kind of impact does the university believe the Pledge will have on the city of Detroit, and the region as a whole, in the coming years?

A: We have always been the hometown university for the city of Detroit.  Even with our amazing ACCESS program that funds more than 3,000 students with zero out of pocket costs, we knew that part of what we needed to do was to show students that we cared about them.  We wanted to create a college going mindset where students would know that they could afford college and that we wanted them to come to Wayne State.  Sometimes folks will allow the media’s focus on student loan debt or their own financial circumstances to drive their belief that the aren’t college ready or that they can’t afford to go to college.

Students in our region can’t afford to not attain a postsecondary credential whether that be a four-year degree, a two-year degree, or a certificate.  The jobs market demands education beyond high school.  We wanted every student to know that they if they worked hard and achieved academically, we would be there financially.  Everything we do at Wayne State is about creating opportunity and making sure that students know we walk alongside them on the educational journey.

With the Heart of Detroit pledge, we will see more students exploring college opportunities and looking to schools who support them like Wayne State does.  Getting college ready will benefit them whether or not they choose to come to WSU and that is the point of the pledge.  We want students across the region to know that we are a university that has their back and that we will support the on their educational journey.  We are telling all the students of Detroit that they have a path to a college education, and we’ll support them.

– Dawn Medley, Associate Vice President, Enrollment Management, Wayne State University

Q: What kind of impact has Warrior Way Back had in its first year and why is this so important to the university?

A: Warrior Way Back has had many amazing benefits for the institution and the region.  First, we’ve welcomed over 140 students back to the university.  These students have had their credit scores improved, they’ve reengaged with higher education and they are working toward a degree which will make them more marketable in the job field.

We’ve also become a national model for supporting returning adults in higher education.  We took an idea and made it a movement.  With support from the Lumina Foundation and Kresge, our Talent Hub work with the Detroit Regional Chamber has become a shining example for other regions in the U.S.

We’ve been able to support other local institutions by helping them create their own debt-forgiveness plans.  For the first time in a long time, folks are looking to Detroit and to WSU for the “how” of higher education.  The program has helped us repair our relationships with students, community members and really demonstrate that we are an institution that cares about our students.

We have had 30 graduates in a year and have been able to show a financially sustainable model of higher education where doing right by the student is the right thing for the institution.  Students have been willing to give us another chance and let us show them the new Wayne State focus on student support and success.”

– Dawn Medley, Associate Vice President, Enrollment Management, Wayne State University

Q: What kind of impact has President M. Roy Wilson had on the university thus far? How would you best describe his leadership?

A: If you look at the list of accomplishments since Roy arrived six years ago, it’s clear his leadership has been transformational, and his impact profound. Wayne State’s six-year graduation rate had the fastest improvement in the nation, partly due to innovative programs like Warrior Way Back. We welcomed the two largest freshman classes in history in the last two years and have seen record applications to our medical school. We exceeded our $750 million fundraising goal significantly and ahead of schedule and completed an innovative partnership to expand new housing on campus. Our new STEM Innovation Center is well under way, and soon we will begin construction of a new sports arena, in partnership with the Detroit Pistons.

Results like this come from great leadership. President Wilson’s leadership combines clear vision, uncompromising integrity, high expectations of excellence, resolve to address difficult challenges with speed and courage, and the humility to listen to and draw upon the best people and ideas, no matter what the source. His work ethic is remarkable, and the respect he shows to everyone – no matter who they are or where they come from – earn admiration and respect from all levels of the university. He is a nationally and internationally known and respected surgeon, researcher and leader, but he is also an asset to Wayne State, Detroit, and the State of Michigan.

– Michael Wright, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Chief of Staff, Wayne State University