Wayne State to offer free tuition for Detroit students, residents

Wayne State University students on Oct. 23, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Wayne State University (WSU) on Wednesday announced an ambitious plan to provide free tuition for Detroit high school graduates.

Wayne State University | iStockphoto

The student must have a high school diploma and be admitted to the university as a full-time freshman in fall 2020. Called the Heart of Detroit Tuition Pledge, the initiative could potentially provide free tuition to students currently enrolled in Detroit Public Schools Community District and thousands of other Detroit residents.

“This is a tremendous day for Wayne State and for Detroit students,” said M. Roy Wilson, WSU president. “This initiative aligns perfectly with many of our institutional values. Opportunity, accessibility and affordability are all pillars of the high-quality education we provide, and the Heart of Detroit tuition pledge delivers on all those values.” 

The program is designed to help fill gaps for students struggling to pay tuition and various fees associated with enrollment. 

To be eligible for the Heart of Detroit Tuition Pledge, students must meet the following criteria:

  • Live in Detroit and have graduated from high school or have graduated from any Detroit high school (public, private, charter, parochial, or home school program) in 2020 or after.
  • Join RaiseMe, a Wayne State partner, which allows high school students to log their achievements and activities to earn micro-scholarships.
  • Receive admission to WSU as a first-time, full-time freshman in fall 2020 or after.
  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by March 1, for the following fall.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson on Oct. 23, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Increased attainment of higher education for Michigan residents has been a key goal of first-term Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who touted the Wayne State program 

“Every Michigander deserves an affordable postsecondary education, and Wayne State has been a tremendous leader on this issue,” Whitmer said. “Earlier this year, I announced a statewide goal of reaching 60 percent of Michiganders with a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2030, and the Heart of Detroit Tuition Pledge will bring us one step closer to meeting that goal.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan added: “Wayne State is recognized as the leading institution in the state of Michigan for diversity and access, and the Heart of Detroit Tuition Pledge is the most recent addition to a robust suite of programs designed to help everyone who wants to earn a college degree achieve that goal.”

Students enrolled in the Communication and Media Arts High School in Detroit learned of their acceptance into the program on Wednesday.

Tyler Parker | Ken Coleman

“I was surprised and I was shocked because I didn’t know I was going to get it,” said Tyler Parker, a 17-year old senior accepted into the Tuition Pledge.

Programs offering free tuition have existed in various forms for a number of years, including in Michigan. 

The Kalamazoo Promise in Southwest Michigan, an anonymously-funded grant program that offers tuition-free education for graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools, dates back to 2005. 

A 2018 report from the W.E. UpJohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo determined that such programs can have a positive effect on a community’s quality of life. 

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“These programs can also increase school district enrollment, attach families more securely to communities, and create a virtuous circle of economic improvement that attracts new residents and businesses,” wrote Michelle Miller-Adams and Edward Smith in the UpJohn report. 

“Promise programs are especially valuable for communities facing out-migration, the loss of industry, concentrated poverty, and demographic change,” the report says. “They recognize that neighborhoods, cities, and regions with more college-educated residents produce a higher tax base, experience less crime and unemployment, and have less need for government support programs.”

Disclosure: Advance reporter Ken Coleman is married to Wayne State board Chair Kim Trent.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.