Wayne State builds on relationships with Detroit high schools to increase Hispanic enrollment

A team from Wayne State University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions spent a lot of time over the last year in Southwest Detroit – well known for its vibrant Hispanic community – and enrollment numbers show it was time well spent.

This fall, more than 10% of one of the largest incoming undergraduate classes in university history identifies as Hispanic. This is due in part to a 37% increase in the number of incoming Hispanic students enrolled relative to last year. University-wide, the overall number of enrolled students who identify as Hispanic increased by 14% compared to the last academic year.

Vanessa Reynolds, who leads the Southwest Detroit recruitment team, said it’s all about connections.

“We have great relationships with all of our schools in Detroit,” said Reynolds, who is also co-chair for Advocates for Latino Student Advancement in Michigan Education – a nonprofit organization that is committed to making college education a reality for Latino students. “I would say it comes down to the rapport that we have with them, the visibility, and that we’re visiting schools constantly.”

Take Western International High School, for example. In previous years, Wayne State gave a presentation to all of the school’s seniors in the auditorium. This year, Western changed things up and had seniors visit recruiters in the school’s resource center during lunch. Unfortunately, only five students showed up.

Vanessa Reynolds (left) and Estenia Gomez Elsivech lead recruitment in Southwest Detroit for Undergraduate Admissions and CLLAS, respectively.
Vanessa Reynolds (left) and Estenia Gomez Elisevich lead recruitment in Southwest Detroit for Undergraduate Admissions and CLLAS, respectively.

“Out of 400 seniors, I’m not okay with that,” said Reynolds. “I graduated from Western, so I love making sure its students know about the resources that Wayne State has to offer. I'm like, ‘This is not normal, so let's do something.’ So, we had a Warrior Day.”

Wayne State’s admissions team and others from around the university mobilized and set up in Western’s cafeteria.

“We had schools and colleges, housing, financial aid, advisors, and several other staff members, you name it. We brought the whole house to Western.”

Every half hour, Western sent 100 seniors to meet with the Wayne State team. The event significantly drove up interest in Wayne State. As a result, the high school arranged for students to visit campus and the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies (CLLAS), where they received a tour and spoke with current Hispanic students.

The Wayne State team returned to Western for an Admitted Students Day – which are typically held on campus – and gave presentations on next steps to enrolling in college, including ensuring enrollment deposits are paid and signing up for an early orientation to ensure students get their selection of classes. The team included Daisy Cordero, a financial aid officer, who is bilingual and was able to communicate with parents and students, and Estenia Gomez Elisevich from CLLAS, who provided another chance to talk with current CLLAS students.

Detroit Student Ambassadors also called every single admitted student from Detroit schools, including Western International, to see if they could answer any questions.

Vanessa Reynolds, Estenia Gomez Elsivech and John Young of the Detroit Recruitment Team.
Vanessa Reynolds, LaJoyce Brown and John Young of the Detroit Recruitment Team.

The result: 42 first-year students are enrolled this fall from Western International, up from 26 last year and 29 in 2021.

Similar efforts led to noticeable enrollment increases in Hispanic students from Cesar Chavez Academy High School (19 to 26) and the smaller, private Detroit Cristo Rey High School (6 to 15). With many Hispanic students attending nearby Downriver schools since the closure of Southwestern High School, Wayne State also had increases at Lincoln Park High School (4 to 12) and Melvindale (2 to 6).

“I want to thank and congratulate members of our Detroit recruitment team (LaJoyce Brown, Audrey Whitfield, John Young and Reynolds), Office of Student Financial Aid, and Center for Latino/Latino and Latin American Studies who for many years have developed and fostered community partnerships and relationships with Detroit and metro Detroit public schools and charter schools dedicated to serving and supporting Hispanic students,” said Ericka Matthews-Jackson, senior director of undergraduate admissions. “Especially Vanessa Reynolds, Daisy Cordero, Estenia Gomez Elisevich and Melissa Miranda Morse, who go above and beyond to ensure that students feel welcome and have a sense of belonging at WSU.” The community partnerships Matthews-Jackson referred to include the Detroit College Access Network and the Michigan Hispanic Collaborative, which work closely with colleges to help Detroit and Hispanic students navigate the complexities of college access and make a college degree a reality.

Melanie Calvillo
Melanie Calvillo is a Hispanic first-year student who said all of the touch points along the way convinced her that Wayne State was the place for her.

Ahmad Ezzeddine, vice president for academic student affairs and global engagement, said financial aid also played an important role in the enrollment increase. About half of this fall’s incoming first-year students will attend Wayne State tuition free, thanks to a combination of programs including the Wayne State Guarantee, the Heart of Detroit Tuition Pledge and the Detroit Promise.

Another key is that once students are admitted, the support continues. For example, all Heart of Detroit recipients are invited to join Warrior 360, a program designed to ensure campus connections, community, skill building and holistic support through every step of the college experience.

Melanie Calvillo, a Hispanic first-year student, said all of the touch points along the way convinced her Wayne State was the place for her. While attending Western International as a freshman and sophomore, she was part of the Upward Bound federally funded TRIO program hosted by Wayne State University, which provides instruction, tutoring, academic and career guidance, and counseling to 150 high school students recruited in the 9th, 10th and 11th grades.

Her junior year, she transferred to Washtenaw Technical Middle College, where she had a great academic experience and was able to earn an associate degree. However, as one of the only

Hispanic students there, she gained a greater appreciation for the diversity of Wayne State’s campus.

Astrid Rodriguez
Astrid Rodriguez, a Caesar Chavez Academy graduate, also chose to attend Wayne State for its diversity.

“When I started the college application process, I wanted to attend a school where I was surrounded by people like me, where I felt comfortable and could represent my culture,” said Calvillo.

After a campus visit and introduction to CLLAS, she made her college choice.

“As a first-generation college student, I saw CLLAS as an opportunity to continue on from Upward Bound and a place I could receive help. The students in CLLAS were so friendly and told me about all of the benefits of the center and about other clubs I could join, like LatinX, which I did.”

CLLAS was able to accept 60 incoming students this year. Sixty-six percent of the cohort are Detroit residents and 87% are first generation students.

Astrid Rodriguez, a Caesar Chavez Academy graduate, also chose to attend Wayne State for its diversity. Now a senior, she is paying back all of the support she received by serving as a peer mentor to new students in CLLAS.

“I am helping them with note-taking skills and I have a caseload of six students right now,” said Rodriguez. “I meet with them biweekly and I help them with notes, any questions on financial aid, checking in on how their classes are going, just making sure they’re on the right track.”

Header caption: Estenia Gomez Elisevich, a recruiter for CLLAS; Marisol Angel-Gamboa, first-year student; Vanessa Reynolds, undergraduate admissions counselor; and Esmeralda Pina Sanchez, first-year student, gather at Western International High School’s Decision Day event.


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