Black enrollment at Wayne State University plummets at alarming rate

Wayne State University campus. Photo by Steve Neavling.
Wayne State University campus. Photo by Steve Neavling.

The number of black students enrolling at Wayne State University has declined at an alarming rate, even as white and Latino enrollment has remained relatively stable, according to records obtained by Motor City Muckraker.

Between the fall semesters of 2009 and 2015, undergraduate enrollment among African Americans dropped from 6,317 to 3,311 – a nearly 50% decline. During the same period, black enrollment has increased nationally by more than 50%.

image-9So what’s happening?

Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson’s administration won’t discuss it, even after boasting this month that overall enrollment at the university increased for the first time in seven years.

Wilson has said that recruiting more African Americans is a priority for the publicly funded university, but it’s unclear what the school is doing to increase the number of black students since the administration continues to dodge our questions.

“There are brilliant children in Detroit schools, and with a great institution like Wayne State University, they should reach out to these young people,” community activist and minister Malik Shabazz told me. “We want Wayne State to do a better job because the recruitment and retention rates are abysmal. It’s an outrage.”

WSU President Roy Wilson
WSU President M. Roy Wilson

The university has ramped up its recruitment of students outside the state and country in a push for more selective admission rates, including a reliance on standardized test scores that are a disadvantage to black students, a disproportionate number of whom receive substandard K-12 education. Wayne State’s administration said this month that average GPA and standardized test scores increased this year.

In Detroit, African Americans make up more than 80% of the population. But at Wayne State, the undergraduate population was 19% black in 2015, compared to 30% black in 2010.

The university also has pledged to increase the retention and graduation rates, which are below the national average. According to university records, only 12% of black students are graduating within six years of enrollment, compared to 48% of white students and 62% of Asian students.

Educators have suggested that graduation rates are lower among African Americans because they are disproportionately subjected to underfunded, substandard K-12 educations. To close the achievement gaps, many universities are providing academic and financial support for disadvantaged students, according to a comprehensive study by The Education Trust

Minister Malik Shabazz
Minister Malik Shabazz

Minister Shabazz said black students at Wayne State also are having a more difficult time paying for classes because of rising tuition, which has increased 152% since 2003, according to state education records. In June, the university’s Board of Governors increased tuition 4.2% by a vote of 6-2. A month later, the board voted in a secret meeting to give President Wilson a $25,000 raise, boosting his base salary to $522,000.

Board members Dana Thompson and David Nicholson voted against the tuition increase.

After we broke the story of the secret, over-the-phone meeting, the Board of Governors said it now plans to publicly vote on the raise at 4 p.m. Friday at the McGregor Memorial Conference Center, 495 Gilmour Mall. Protesters plan to attend the meeting to demand that board members reject the bonus until black enrollment increases and tuition stops rising.

“Wayne State needs a recruitment plan,” Minister Shabazz said. “We need to keep Detroiters in Detroit. When they graduate, they can stay here and give back. We can help these young people.”

This story is part of our ongoing investigation of Wayne State University.

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WSU flyer: Muckraker’s Neavling is ‘dangerous,’ not allowed in campus building

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.