47: New Approach to Debt Forgiveness at Wayne State University w/ Dawn Medley

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dawn Medley, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management at Wayne State University discusses both the access and enrollment growth benefits of their Warrior Way Back program, which forgives up to $1,500 in past-due debt that’s preventing students from moving forward in their degree program.

There aren't enough students to fill the seats and we can't go back eighteen years and say hey, have a lot of babies, we're going to need them to be fresh in college the next year. So if I have six hundred ninetyzero people out in the Greater Detroit area who I can re engage with higher education, why wouldn't I? You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect ETU podcast network. I'm Eric Olson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with dawn medley, associate vice president of enrollment management at Wayne State University. Dawn, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me right really excited to talk to you today about Wayne State's new approach to debt forgiveness. Before we dig into that, dawn, can you give the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Wayne State University and your role there. So yeah, my name is dominantly and I have the pleasure of serving as the associate vice president for enrollment management at Wayne State. For those of you not familiar, Wayne State is a proud institution. We've been here a hundred and fifty years. Were actually celebrating our SESQUI centennial this year, and that's kind of a hard word for a lot of but yeah, so we've been here a hundred fifty years. We have a law school and medical school. Where a comprehensive urban serving institution and right in the heart of Detroit. So we've seen the up seen the downs, seen the resurgents and things are going really well. Awesome done. I'm so excited to chat with you today about this because across higher read there are more than thirty four million students with some college credit but no credential. Talk about how you are attempting to help...

...solve this problem, in part with your warrior way back program. Well, we've been blessed. We were selected as a lumined talent hub in this latest round in partnership with the Detroit Chamber of Commerce, and then one of our community college partners, the Comb Community College, and as we were creating the proposal to luminate and really looking and trying to examine, you know what, who needed help in our greater kind of southeast Michigan region, we discovered that there were six hundred ninety thou students. So you mentioned thirty four million. We had six hundred ninety thousand just in the southeast Michigan area who had some college, no degree. And as we were looking at that, around the same time that was going on the city of Detroit was having a parking fine forgiveness program and so I have about a twenty minute community way to work every day and so it was really kind of thinking how to these all, you know, these things all work together and and how can they make these work for students? And we'd had some conversations with the graduate network, with the Chamber, with some industry, and we found a large chunk of those students, you know, of those, those six hundred and ninety thousand students, had passed to debt to institutions. So you start small, you start at your home institution and you really start looking and saying, who are these students, how much do they owe? Is In an academic hold only is it a financial hold. Only is it both. And really drilling down. And so we found thirteenzero students who had left Wayne State since two thousand and five who fell into one of those categories and we decided for the students, you know, who have academic holds, maybe they're eligible for our restart program, which is known as Phoenix. For the students who have no holes either way, you know, they just sometimes need to know where the front door is to come back. But for the students who have passed to balances, that's a unique population because federal financial aid dollars cannot pay for a past debt.

It can only pay for a current semesters enrollment. So how are those students who maybe, you know, didn't get their fasts and filed or didn't get through verification but they were still enrolled, how are they supposed to clear that debt? Every Higher Ed Institution in the nation holds that that transcript hostage. We will not release that transcript until a student and has paid off their past dough balance in full. And what we're essentially doing is we are locking them out of the higher education world. They can't get their transcript, they can't re enrolled, they can't do anything currently at Wayne State. If the student owes a balance one fifteen hundred dollars or less, we allow them to go ahead and we lift that hold and we allow them to continue on with their education. So That's how we struck upon one fifteen hundred dollar limit for these students. The way we're handling that, we truly are Eric building the plane as we're fine it, but the way we're handling that is we've put that balance, one fifteen hundred dollars in a parking lot and for every semester the student, you know, is re enrolled, for every semester they're re enrolled and that they are successfully moving toward graduation or toward a degree, we forgive a third of that balance so that the end of three terms or three semesters, they'll be, you know, at least thirty six hours closer to their degree. They will also no longer have debt. We will have pulled them out of collections or clear to bad debt off of their credit record, which will impact them if they go to buy a house or car, and we gained a lot of good will. We're also able to help move them, you know, more toward that degree and maybe help them advance themselves professionally. It's such a creative approach, Dawn. From a financial standpoint, what you're doing is is you're really offering a five hundred dollar per term debt forgiveness for up to three consecutive terms to incentivize these stepouts to re enroll. In your view, who is this more of an access move or is it a really creative enrollment growth strategy based on the Roy you're able to get back from the...

...tuition revenue that's coming from those students who end up re enrolling who may not have Eric? You're letting all my secrets out both. It really is both. At Wayne State, about fifty percent of our students are peal eligible, so we already have a high need population. And so earlier, for fall two thousand and seventeen, we instituted a plan called access where in over one hundred of our pal eligible freshman had zero out of pocket expense for tuition and fees, and we did that by being really creative about our institutional aid and how we kind of narrowed that gap for students and filled it for them. And so that was for incoming freshman students. The problem in the State of Michigan and pretty much in the Midwest is the birthrates declining and so as pressures grow on enrollment managers to increase our overall enrollment at our institutions, there aren't enough students to fill the seats and we can't go back eighteen years and say, Hey, have a lot of babies, we're going to need them to be fresh in college the next year. So if I have six hundred ninetyzero people out in the Greater Detroit area who I can re engage with higher education, why wouldn't I? You know, there are older students, they're more mature students. Maybe they've learned from their mistakes, maybe they're looking for a fresh start, and that's exactly the kind of student that we need to be working with and bringing back into kind of the higher education pipeline. And we have some really, really strong partnerships with our community colleges and so we're taking a different approach maybe than what we did five, six, seven years ago. And what you may not know about Wayne State is our graduation rates have jumped twenty one points in the last six years and we've done that with very systemic and and careful approaches. Monica Brockmeyer is the person leading that charge in our in our area, and she's just amazing. And why wouldn't we want...

...to bring the students who didn't succeed back into our new ecosystem of support where we have heightened learning communities and we have more financially, we have a food pantry, we have emergency loans, we have student completion grants, we have a program to help housing in secure students. So students didn't succeed here for one reason. Now we can bring them back and we can show them a new Wayne State and we can also engage with them at a much more personalized, in granular level, because we already know these students dropped out once. We don't want them to drop out again. And so a targeted learning community for these students, targeted support really almost, I guess, helping them was student support, like we're not going to let them get away without us trying to help them be successful. And so that's a new APP Roach. So it is about access, but it's also about good will re engaging. And then I had the opportunity to day to speak to a lot of higher education and business leaders about this. It's more about the ecosystem that is southeast Michigan and where I want to take this program to the whole state and then really how I have, you know, kind of envisioned a national model, because we cannot keep just putting the blame on students not succeeding back on the students. As higher institutions, we really need to look to ourselves to fix this problem and to make it easier for students to succeed. You mentioned this idea of re engaging them differently this time so they won't have the same stop out of you they did. You've created some brand new student success services specifically to help support these warrior way back participants. Can you talk through what some of those are? Well, well, one of them I just talked about as a food pantry. You know, when you look at over thirty percent of college age students are food and secure, you also think about these students who may have children as well. You know, how are they handling that? And so we have a food pantry on on campus with some of our community partners, leaners, and our provost, keep wit Philip, has really championed...

...that and made sure that, you know, our students aren't going hungry. Our First Lady, Jacqueline Wilson, she has a program called helping students go higher. It's the high program and what it does is a students are housing insecure, gets them into, you know, an emergency bed, helps them with rent, helps them, you know, maybe get out of a domestic violence situation. In financial aid, Cathy K WHO's our director of financial aid, she has at her discretion emergency funds so that if a student blows a tire and can't drive their car, needs a copay for a student. One of the students that we just recently helped was about to get their water shut off. You know, we're looking we're going to open a daycare on campus this fall. So it really is taking a holistic approach and trying to make sure that students are supported where they are. And one of the ways we do that is with our VIP program where we actually take support services out to already established affinity groups. So like we have a veterans group, we have the network, which is for African American men, we have an organization for minority journalists, one for muzzle of American citizens, and so we go out to them and maybe they have questions or concerns about borrowing money or about steady skills or but they're already in a safe environment and we bring the service to them to support them exploring it in that safe environment. And so I think we're just doing some really innovative things to help students be really successful and to make sure that that they have the information that they need in order to, you know, continue on with their education. It's such great stuff done. This warrior way back program was just recently announced. I was worrying if it's too early to know what the initial interest has looked like so far. Eric, I would like to tell you that that it's too early, but it's not. I think it was overdo currently at this point we have about a thousand students. We've done no direct marketing to these students, simply by making...

...the announcement, having the press announcement. I mean we had lists of students generated and, you know, postcards and facebook ads and all these things that we were going to go out really target them and we've already had a thousand students raise their hands and say, Hey, I want to come back to Wayne State. Hey, I didn't go to Wayne State, but can you help me engage with my higher Ed Institution. Hey, I'm in default on my student loans and I don't know what to do about that. Can you help? And so we'll be writing a couple of different types of open houses that are really more like workshops. And that's the other thing. When you have twenty seven thousand students that you work with, sometimes big higher ed institutions, we lose the ability to really drill down to that personal level with that student. And that's exactly what we're doing. We're boots on the ground with these students and I gave the staff, and when I say staff, it is a cross functional team. I joked with somebody that I've never spent so much time with student accounts folks before in my life and just really understanding, you know, some of the hurdles about, you know, contracts with collection agencies and what we need to overcome. But one of the things that's been really neat about this team is watching where everybody touches the individual students and we have two rules. And so the first rule is that you don't if a student lands with you, you don't get to send that student somewhere else. You get to take their hand and you get to walk along with them and find the answer. And the second thing is that the death shrug is forbidden. And so you've been in a place sometimes where you ask a question in somebody kind of shrug their shoulders and we're like, I don't really know, not allowed, and so that makes it okay for us all to kind of operate in this messy kind of space where we're not quite sure all of the questions, all of the struggles and all of the issues that students may come to us and need help with. What we really are sure about is that...

...we're going to deliver they help they need where they are. We know that we have to reengage with adult students, usually fourteen times before they re enroll, and we're prepared to do that. Don You reference that? You're hoping other institutions follow your lead here, that this become a national model for what debt forgiveness can look like. Any next step to advice for institutions looking to use a similar strategy for helping stopouts return? Call me happy to share our successes and and our struggles as we go through this process. You know, I reference that I spoke with some folks partner with your collaborators in your community that you already have, whether that's philanthropic support, whether that's, you know, Your Business is, your your commercialism, your folks like you know what we have the Detroit drives degree program here. You don't have to do all of the heavy lifting alone, and we talk a lot of times about the the two year, four year process. One of the things that we're going to utilize with this is and really heavily with our community college partners, is the reverse transfer, because a student may be running out of financial a to complete a bachelor's degree, but if they can take their eighty hours and go to one of our community college partners through a very robust reverse transfer program, we can get them a credential and associate's degree and then they can use that to leverage a position where then they might go on and leverage and employer tuition reimbursement program to complete their baccalaureate degree. So really looking at it as a systemic, wide approach where everybody can come to the table and bring their own area of expertise and their own funding services to support moving students through it. Don thanks so much for your time today. You said call me. What is the best place for listeners to connect with you if they have any follow up questions. Well, we'll never catch me on the phone, so that the other thing my phone, it just goes off. But what you can...

...do and what your listeners can do is you can email me and my email address is dawn Daw and Dot Medley emdlle Y at Wayne Way and e doted you and I'm only about fifteen hundred emails behind right now. So there's been a lot of interest in this program not only from higher ed institutions, but lots of civic organizations, lots of mayor's offices, and so I would just encourage people, you know, reach out and an exact model of what we're doing here may not fit, but there's a whole bunch that you can take in and you can apply where you are to really benefit students. Awesome. Thanks again so much for joining us today. Down, no worry. Thank you. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies helix educations, data driven enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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