Detroit Regional Chamber > Education & Talent > Wayne State to Expand Program Helping College Dropouts Get Their Degrees

Wayne State to Expand Program Helping College Dropouts Get Their Degrees

January 24, 2023

The Detroit News
Jan. 23, 2023
Kim Kozlowski

Detroit — Wayne State University plans to announce Tuesday that it’s expanding its debt forgiveness program, casting a wider net to lure back adults with college credits so they can earn their degrees.

The university is expanding its Warrior Way Back, a 2018 initiative that forgives students up to $1,500 in debt to the Detroit university so they can work toward completing their degrees. For decades, Wayne State was like most colleges and universities across the nation, putting academic holds on the accounts of students with a balance owed to the university.

Now Wayne State plans to expand its successful program that has attracted more than 330 students to those who owe $4,000, making 2,800 more former students eligible.

Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson said the program targets adults who have some college experience, no degree and some debt, which often disproportionately affects low-income students and exacerbates racial inequities.

“It’s an issue of justice,” Wilson told The Detroit News. “We bring these students in, they get into debt and they don’t have a degree. It’s unfair to them. We have to do everything we can to help them get a degree.”

The program, which has gained attention nationally and serves as a blueprint for other schools locally, has attracted 335 adults back to WSU and graduated 136 students. The average age of the students who have returned is 38 years old; 70% are African American.

Jermaine Peguese is one of those students. He graduated from high school in 2006 and attended college in Tennessee, then at Wayne State University. But he left both colleges before earning a degree.

Having a little too much fun, a job in Toledo and a lack of commitment got in the way, Peguese said. When he turned 30, he promised himself that he would go back to college and get his degree. He followed through, graduating in December 2021 with a WSU bachelor’s in construction management in engineering technologies, when he was 33.

“It took 15 years, so it was super sweet,” said Peguese, who is now the special projects manager and membership and volunteer coordinator for the Detroit branch of the NAACP.

The program, which so far has cost $290,000, “has been very successful and very well-received,” said Amber Neher, adviser for WSU’s Warrior Way Back and adult returning student programs.

“So why not expand it out to more students who could benefit from a bachelor’s degree?”

Students Face Barriers to Returning to College

There are 655,000 adults in Metro Detroit who are 25 or older and have some college or no degree, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey 2021. That’s 21.4% of the 3 million people age 25 or older living in the region.

WSU’s Warrior Way Back program addresses the need in those numbers: Thousands of students start college at Wayne State and other colleges, earn enough credits short of a degree but don’t finish, said Ahmad Ezzeddine, WSU’s vice president of academic student affairs and global engagement. Many owe money to college, creating a barrier for them to come back.