News Story

Celebrating When Graduation Rates Reach 47 Percent

Wayne State University cites increase from 26 percent

Some media and higher education organizations have praised Wayne State University as a model of higher education for the school’s improved graduation rates, even though its numbers are low compared to other public universities in the state.

WSU reports a graduation rate of 47 percent overall, an increase from 26 percent six years ago. The graduation rate for African-American students at the Detroit university is 20 percent. The graduation rates come from the National Center for Education Statistics. The graduation rates measure the percentage of full-time, first-time students who began in the Fall of 2011 and had six years to graduate.

Despite both rates ranking at the bottom for public universities in Michigan, WSU drew praise from at least one national organization.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities last month gave WSU an award, commending it for “using innovative strategies or programs to increase retention and graduation outcomes and decrease achievement gaps.” A press release from the university cited a $10 million retention initiative that started in 2011.

The initiative, the university said, “improved student success by hiring professional academic advisors, improving curriculum in general education courses, increasing support for faculty teaching development, bolstering support for underprepared students, establishing first-year experiences for new students and strengthening financial aid.”

In a recent press release, the university promoted the quality of its newest students.

“Wayne State’s incoming students maintain Wayne State’s strong academic standards, as well as its commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for students,” the university stated.

Wayne State was criticized in 2010 after The Education Trust reported that fewer than 10 percent of African-American students at the university graduate within six years, a significantly lower rate than for white students.

Inside Higher Ed called WSU’s improved graduation rates since 2010 impressive, while Bridge Magazine’s Ron French talked up the university as a model.

“This is a story celebrating the public university with the lowest graduation rate in the state of Michigan,” French wrote in November.

Bridge Magazine cited “success rates,” a measurement which use a slightly different methodology than federal graduation rates and comes from the Center for Educational Performance and Information, a Michigan state agency. (The graduation rates use a methodology from the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or IPEDS.)

Richard Vedder, a professor of economics emeritus at Ohio University, took a skeptical view of the idea that Wayne State is a model of success.

“Wayne State is still a troubled institution in terms of the academic performance of their students; there may have been some improvement over the years,” said Vedder, who is a member of the Mackinac Center's Board of Scholars. “It’s still pretty pathetic.”

"At the very least, it doesn't say much about the current state of American higher education if a [47] percent graduation rate merits such accolades, does it?" asked Glenn Ricketts, spokesman for the National Association of Scholars.

WSU’s associate provost for student success, Monica Brockmeyer, said in an email to Michigan Capitol Confidential that the university’s numbers are top in the country when it comes to improvement.

“The latest federal graduation rate results from IPEDS show that WSU is the fastest-improving university in the nation among public universities with more than 10,000 students,” Brockmeyer said. “We are fully committed to continuing this transformation to exceed the 50 percent graduation rate goal established in our strategic plan as well as to narrow and close educational disparities.”

Brockmeyer also said WSU is not below average, given its focus on low-income and first-generation students.

“Our graduation rate is not below average when you consider the students we serve. Many students who thrive and graduate at Wayne State would simply not have the opportunity at other universities. Our university also fares very well in indicators of social mobility,” she said. “While we are proud of these results, we are not complacent. We look forward to continued institutional transformation in the service of our students.”