WSU considers enrollment changes

WSU considers enrollment changes
Published
• Sun, Dec 18, 2011
By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — There is a struggle for the soul of Michigan’s only urban research institution, Wayne State University (WSU).


On one side are the alumni and students who proudly tell blood, sweat and tears stories of getting a degree after years of riding the bus to school after a full day’s work and waiting out semesters until enough money was on hand for another term.

Then there is the state of Michigan under the often punitive leadership of conservative Republicans who want government and its institutions to run on business models: all numbers, productivity and accountability with no measure for human potential.

“We are not changing radically, but substantively,” WSU President Allan D. Gilmour told a crowd of about 75 community members during an expanded President’s Community Advisory Group meeting Nov. 30 at the campus police station.

Under pressure from the state, WSU has to “improve” its graduation rates so that more students graduate within six years, Gilmour said.

In November, Gov. Rick Snyder announced that state aid for public universities would be based on graduation rates as early as next year.

WSU has a tradition of accepting nontraditional students, students of all ages who often have economic, family and job challenges. It can take these students longer to graduate than students at University of Michigan (U-M) or Michigan State (MSU).

Lansing lawmakers believe that measuring student graduation rates within a six-year time period is a move to improve accountability.

Only 10.2 percent of WSU students graduate in four years, according to collegeresults.org

Also, more than 30 percent of WSU students are Black or Latino and 47 percent receive Pell Grants, a federal needs-based grant. At the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, 72.7 percent graduate in four years, 10 percent are Black and Latino and 12 percent receive Pell Grants.

“We have to get people in and have to get people out,” Gilmour said, noting that the university is studying causes and solutions. To achieve the goal of a six-year 82 percent graduation rate, up from 31 percent, Gilmour said WSU knows it has to “do more with students here” and be better about admitting students who have a chance to succeed. That means accepting students with higher test scores and grade point averages.

It also means WSU will “provide a deeper analysis of each student’s potential, rather than rely on numbers,” Gilmour said, with emphasis on selecting students with “talent and drive, no matter their background.”

He stressed that the university was planning extra programming for incoming students to help WSU maintain its ties with the Detroit community, but admitted that resources are limited while pressure from the state and federal governments to tighten graduation rates was great.

To help prepare incoming students for success the university will offer free summer programs and on-going support for those students with adequate skills.

Speaking to an audience filled with alumni, who recounted their own lengthy struggles to finish at Wayne State and earn degrees, Gilmour stressed that the university was under pressure to make the changes, saying that “outsiders are doing the measuring,” and agreed the six-year graduation standard a “simplistic measure.”

“You are creating an apartheid model,” challenged DPS school board member and alumnus Elena Herrada. She said students at Wayne State “stop out,” not drop out. She challenged Gilmour and said his vision did not accept the reality of Detroit students who are graduating from schools marked by chaos, overcrowding and a lack of resources because of state interventions for the last decade.

A Chicano woman told the president it took her 15 years to graduate, but that she graduated with honors, was a single mother and had gone on to earn a masters degree from the University of Michigan.

“The university started with a flawed assessment,” she said. “You look at the types of students rather than look at the institution itself. Your analysis started on the wrong foot.”

She urged Gilmour to study the successful WSU Chicano-Boricua program, which admits students with lower than average grade point averages and test scores yet claims a 90 percent graduation rate.

“You managed to use every code word for racism in your presentation,” she told Gilmour, saying that his plan reminded her of her high school counselors who urged her not to try college, but instead become a beautician.

Another alumnus told Gilmour that WSU should not be competing with other universities because of the dynamics of who attends the school.

A representative from DAPCEP urged WSU to separate full- and part-time students. An alumnus and current faculty member urged the president to not accept the state-imposed standards and to instead “fight for us.”

“There is a high level of stress over what WSU’s mission is becoming,” said another alumnus. “It feels like Wayne State is having an identity crisis.”

In his remarks, Gilmour said resources would be available to help students reach the new standards. One program, he said, was that any Detroiter admitted could attend for the cost of $4,000 a year.

Gilmour told the group that the admissions revision process is ongoing and welcomed further community input. He said the revised admissions policies should be ready within a few weeks.

Anyone wishing to add comments to the discussion can send them to President Allan Gilmour at president@wayne.edu.