Wayne State University Admissions Proposals Spark Concern Among Students Of Color

People crowded into an auditorium at Wayne State University's campus police station Wednesday to participate in a community forum on proposed changes to the university's admissions policies.

The university did not allow members of press to cover the talk.

Elena Herrada, a Detroit Public Schools Board member and Wayne State Chicano-Boricua Studies almuna who attended the meeting, said the audience response "was very, very strong. It was a packed house."

Wayne State Provost Ronald T. Brown, who chairs the university's committee on admissions, said he could not go into specifics about any of the policy proposals discussed at the forum because the group was still preparing a report for the university's Board of Governors.

He did comment on a new initiative to recruit more students who are Detroit residents.

"We're located right here in the city, but we haven't had as much contact with the Detroit Schools as we've wanted," Brown said. "So, we've ramped that up, and we introduced at the meeting yesterday a number of folks whose job it is just to visit the Detroit schools."

Audience members gave a lot of suggestions on how to contact city schools and make better inroads with DPS, Brown added.

Herrada was more candid about the conversation. She said the university's president, Alan Gilmour, spoke about new state-imposed guidelines for university funding based on retention and graduation rates. Those guidelines could hold deep implications for ethnic and socioeconomic diversity on Michigan's college campuses.

Wayne State held the largest gap between the graduation rates of black and white students among American public universities with significant numbers of both races, according to an article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education last year. The findings were of even greater significance because "close to one-third of the university's 20,000 undergraduates are black."

Because Wayne State is a commuter school with a lot of working-class students, Herrada said Michigan's rules were stacked against the university.

"Wayne State students can take 10 and 20 years [to graduate] and that's going to be considered a mark against them on retention," she said.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Snyder proposed a 15 percent cut across the board to state higher education funding, as well as new funding formulae.

Brown said Wayne State's admissions budget had not been cut and that giving lower-income students access to higher education was still a priority at Wayne State.

"We are working with the state to be more efficient, to capitalize on any efficiencies without compromising any standards. We're still a university of opportunity," he said. "We offer hope to a lot of people who might not get an education otherwise that can change their socioeconomic trajectory, and that is still a core mission."

Herrada was more skeptical of the university's priorities. She said Michigan's new policies would change the ethnic makeup of its public universities.

"Many people [at the forum] felt and stated very clearly -- there was a lot of good testimony -- that there should be a challenge to what the governor's orders are," she said. "They shouldn't be doing ethnic cleansing in the universities. That should be challenged."

In a reversal of Bush-era "guidance," the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that it supports factoring race into admissions policies at public universities.

Wayne State's own statistics show substantial drops in the number of African-American and Detroit-resident students admitted to Wayne State in recent years. This year's numbers for admissions by ethnicity are not yet available on the university's website, Brown said, because registration for the next semester is not yet complete.