Federal data show that Wayne State University in Detroit has the fastest-improving graduation rate in the nation among public universities with more than 10,000 students. In fact, the percentage of students who earned a degree within six years of enrolling at Wayne State nearly doubled from 2011 to 2017, jumping from 26 percent to 47 percent, according to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.
Even more impressive is that these gains have been particularly pronounced among first-generation, low-income, and minority students, the university says.
While Wayne State’s graduation rate increased by 21 percentage points in six years, national graduation rates have increased only two percentage points over the last decade.
Wayne State’s emphasis on boosting graduation rates began in earnest in 2011, when it launched a Student Retention Initiative. Over the next five years, the university invested more than $10 million in student success projects. Here are four key areas the university has focused on.
1. Academic advising
“The core of the initiative was an overhaul in academic advising, which has led to proactive, individualized advising driven by state-of-the art technology and comprehensive professional development,” says Monica Brockmeyer, senior associate provost for student success. “As a result, each student enters the university connected to the supports necessary for success.”
In 2011, Wayne State was using a centralized advising model in which advisors worked out of a campus Advising Center. Since that time, the university has hired 45 additional academic advisors and has embedded them into its schools and colleges, bringing its ratio of students to advisors down to about 300 to 1.
Wayne State still maintains an Advising Center, but its focus is on helping special student populations, such as veterans and students in transition. The university also runs a training academy out of its Advising Center to help advisors be more effective.
How often students meet with an academic advisor varies, depending on their needs. “We think that’s great news, because we are getting better at differentiating our support for students,” says Brockmeyer. Students whose needs are greater “are seeing their advisor (up to) 20 times a year, but university-wide, we average maybe two student visits per year. That has roughly doubled since we began our initiative.”