For Detroit's Catholic high schools, Wayne State's free tuition plan is a God-send

Students from Detroit Cristo Rey High School attend a campus visit at Wayne State University in Midtown Detroit on Nov. 21. The price of college has a tremendous impact on families who attend Cristo Rey, said school president Mike Khoury, who added he suspects applications to Wayne State will increase thanks to the university's “Heart of Detroit” tuition-assistance program. (Photos by Melissa Moon | Detroit Catholic)

Students at Loyola, Cristo Rey and University of Detroit Jesuit taking advantage of new 'Heart of Detroit' tuition pledge, counselors say

DETROIT — In October, Wayne State University announced a new program offering free college tuition to eligible students who graduate from a Detroit high school or are a Detroit resident earning a high school diploma.

This includes for those graduating from one of Detroit’s three Catholic high schools: Loyola, Detroit Cristo Rey and University of Detroit Jesuit.

The Heart of Detroit Pledge covers tuition and mandatory fees for students who are admitted to the university as full-time freshmen for the fall 2020 semester and builds on already exiting tuition programs such as Detroit Promise.

According to Angela Hunter, junior and senior/college counselor at Loyola, almost every Loyola senior applied to Wayne State this past October, when the high school participated in the Michigan College Access Network, a statewide program whose mission is to increase college readiness, participation and completion in Michigan, particularly among low-income students, first-generation college-going students and students of color.

Over the last decade, Loyola — which currently has a senior class of 34 students — has had 100% college acceptance, and the school follows graduating students in their first year of college and beyond through Loyola’s transition program.  

“A lot of our students opt out of going to a four-year college because of the burden it puts on their family,” Hunter said. “(The Heart of Detroit Pledge) gives them the opportunity to go to a four-year college and not have the stress of watching their family struggle for them to get a degree.”

With the Heart of Detroit Pledge, there is no cap on grade point averages or test scores, Hunter said.

“I’ll have kids in their senior year trying multiple times to take the ACT or SAT. We’ll see grades go down because they’re stressing out about getting a specific score,” Hunter said. “Ninety-five percent of our students don’t pay full tuition at Loyola. It’s nice to have options for them to go somewhere where they don’t have to pay full tuition.”

Detroit Cristo Rey students listen to a presentation about Wayne State's campus during a college visit Nov. 21.

In addition to Wayne State's tuition program, several other college scholarship options exist for Detroit-area Catholic school students. In 2014, a partnership between the Archdiocese of Detroit and the University of Detroit Mercy began offering up to $20,000 in scholarships for students who attend an archdiocesan Catholic school from first through 12th grade, and in 2016, Madonna University in Livonia and the now-closed Marygrove College in Detroit began offering similar programs on a smaller scale.

On average, four to five Cristo Rey graduating seniors attend Wayne State each year, according to Michael Khoury, president of the Detroit high school, which is jointly sponsored by the IHM Sisters and Basilian Fathers. 

Several juniors and seniors recently toured Wayne State, and Khoury suspects the number of Cristo Rey students who choose WSU will increase as a result of the free-tuition program. The average family income for Cristo Rey students is less than $35,000, and the price of college has a tremendous impact on families, he said.

“Our students have significantly better outcomes when they directly enroll in a four-year school like Wayne State. This program is part of Wayne State’s commitment to the city, and I’ve been happy with the outcomes our kids are achieving at WSU. The feedback we’re receiving from the students there is positive. We’re on team WSU,” Khoury said.

Over the past five years, University of Detroit Jesuit had seen a decrease in Wayne State applications. When the program was announced, however, there was an increase in applications, according to Anthony Trudel, U of D Jesuit principal.

U of D Jesuit’s college counseling begins in the ninth grade, and by the time students are seniors, the counselors have created a fit profile for them.

“Usually there are kids who make a selection of where they want to go to school based on fit. By the time they are juniors or seniors, they know where they want to attend,” Trudel said. “Because the Heart of Detroit doesn’t really look at GPA, a lot of students who graduate in the 2.5-3.0 GPA range … are now looking at Wayne State as their school of choice. It’s still early for us to see results. It’ll be interesting to see where kids end up going to school.”

Students and parents interested in learning more about the Heart of Detroit Tuition Pledge, including eligibility requirements, can find additional information online or by contacting [email protected].