Best practices report highlights WSU for helping students

December 5, 2017

Wayne State University is the only school in Michigan highlighted in a report on best practices to help students pay for college and stay in school.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and its report, “Making College Affordable,” lauds Wayne State for proactively providing financial aid text notifications. The report states that research suggests that low-cost interventions, such as text reminders, improve students’ completion of the FAFSA and other college-related tasks.

The report notes that students from the bottom socioeconomic quartile are eight times less likely to earn a bachelor’s than students from the top socioeconomic quartile (7.4 percent versus 60 percent).

The report offers best practices organized into three categories: clarifying financial information, easing the financial burden and filling financial aid gaps.

“To fulfill our mission, we need to provide access to education for all potential graduates, including those students who are at-risk, such as first-generation college students,” said Provost Keith Whitfield. “Helping these students better understand what they can do to make college more affordable has the double benefit of increasing our educated workforce and helping students become productive citizens.”

In addition to financial aid text notifications, Wayne State offers free financial literacy workshops, such as FAFSA Fridays, to help students navigate financial aid, scholarships and more. With support from the Office of the Provost and President M. Roy Wilson, WSU added 17 additional financial aid positions and invested in more efficient award distribution software to better support students.

Although WSU was recognized in the first category, clarifying financial information, it has strong programs in each of the categories to help low-income students.

Wayne State’s financial aid prioritizes need-based awards, easing financial burden through offerings including the Wayne Access award, which provides free or nearly free tuition to eligible students after a combination of federal, state and other institutional aid. The award was launched in December 2016, and more than 900 freshmen — roughly 34 percent of WSU’s incoming class — had their tuition and fees fully funded for the 2017-18 academic year.

“No other institution in the state comes close in terms of providing free or nearly free tuition to so many of its students,” said Dawn Medley, associate vice president of enrollment management. “The Wayne Access award sets the bar high for student support and makes Wayne State a true destination.”

In addition to the Wayne Access award, Wayne State is a full partner in the Detroit Promise program, an initiative launched by the Detroit Regional Chamber that covers tuition expenses not met through other grants and scholarships for students who are residents of Detroit and graduates from a Detroit high school. As a full partner, WSU does not limit the number of students who can receive this award.

Unlike other institutions, Wayne State does not require any additional applications or paperwork beyond the FAFSA and the initial admission application for students to be considered for the Wayne Access award, the Detroit Promise program or any other award. The university has also introduced the Next Generation Fee Waiver, which waives the application fee for all first-generation students. 

“Our financial aid and enrollment teams are doing the right things for the right reasons,” said Cathy Kay, director of financial aid. “At the core of our daily work and in our strategic planning, we always put the students and their needs first. We see them as individuals with different challenges and needs, and we do our best to support them with every opportunity for success possible.”

Even with financial aid, some students struggle to meet basic needs, and unexpected expenses can interfere with studies. As a result, Wayne State has developed programs to help students meet outstanding needs and fill the financial gaps noted in the third category of the report.

The university just announced a Student Emergency Fund (SEF) that provides short-term financial assistance to help cover expenses for students facing temporary hardship due to an unexpected situation. The SEF can cover expenses for emergency housing assistance, emergency medical care, urgent rent or utility assistance, emergency transportation related to a family death or illness, temporary support costs in a dangerous situation, and more. You can support the fund by designating your university donation toward it. 

WSU offers support, both in terms of completion grants and the Crossing the Finish Line scholarship, for students who are close to graduation but find themselves in financial need to complete their degree.

The university also offers supplemental support for (at-risk) students through on-campus resources like the HIGH Program — which provides housing support, textbooks and other school supplies, clothing, transportation, and child-care assistance, and The W food pantry, which provides perishable and nonperishable goods, toiletries, women’s hygiene products and other supplies to those facing food insecurities. There are also caseworkers from Michigan Department of Health and Human Services located in the Welcome Center to assist students with learning more about and applying for state and federal benefits.