No student should have to choose between going to class and life’s most basic needs of food and shelter. Since we founded the HIGH Program in 2013, this has become our simple mantra that motivates us each day. Unfortunately, it remains a reality for some Wayne State University students.
I discovered this when I first arrived at the university in the summer of 2013, when my husband, M. Roy Wilson, M.D., accepted the honor to be the 12th president of Wayne State. It was brought to my attention at an event, that a graduate student was homeless and living out of her car.
She knew that soon she’d earn her degree and benefit from a higher education, but she didn’t want to choose between housing and tuition. And she just didn’t have enough for both.
Three years later, the HIGH Program alleviates some of that pressure for students in need. The program provides assistance to students needing help with tuition, housing, text books, transportation and other items that may seem incidental to most of us, but can make the difference between reaching a goal, or not.
We are excited about the momentum the HIGH Program has today. Since our inception in 2013, we’ve received over 300 applications for assistance and more than 130 students have been helped with financial aid support or direct referrals to an alternative funding source.
It’s important to understand who these students are, so let me paint a quick picture. These are individuals who are tenacious, ambitious and driven to succeed. The number one request we receive is for housing assistance. Usually, it’s temporary, just to get a student through a rough financial time. Like this Wayne State Warrior:
I don’t even know where to begin. Where would I be now if it weren’t for the HIGH Program? Probably crashing on different people’s couches. I was literally on the brink of being evicted with only a couple months left in the semester. The HIGH Program saved me. They covered the two months so that I wouldn’t have to suffer or worry while in school. This also allowed me time to find a job for the summer and the ability to focus on school in the meantime. This program basically changed the course of things for me. I honestly don’t even know where the other road may have taken me, and I’m glad I don’t have to find out. This program is a very beneficial entity to students at Wayne State University. Thank you for everything!
Most Wayne State students seeking assistance from the HIGH Program come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have overcome almost insurmountable obstacles to be at our university. They persevere, knowing that an education is the key that unlocks a lifetime of doors. These students just need a temporary boost to keep them on track to graduate.
And graduate is exactly what they do. In 2014, 94 percent of the students who were provided assistance from the HIGH Program graduated on time. And in 2015, 100 percent of our participating students were on target to graduate.
The HIGH Program is funded by the generosity of individuals and by philanthropic organizations. We recently received a generous grant from the McGregor Fund and thanks to Phillip W. Fisher, Robert L. Ryan, The Baxt Family and the Sean Anderson Foundation, founded by rapper Big Sean, the HIGH Program now has a modest endowment.
But we must do more. Because the need is strong, we are setting our goals “high.” While continuing to assist students with immediate needs, we intend to aggressively develop a consistent revenue stream and build an endowment of $5 million in order to assist at least 50 students annually.
There is no gift that’s too small, because collectively they make a big difference in a student’s life. If you’d like to contribute to the HIGH Program or if you’re interested in receiving more information on our program, please email us at WSUHIGHProgram@wayne.edu or visit our website, http://highprogram.wayne.edu.
Jacqueline Wilson is Wayne State University’s First Lady and Founding Director of the HIGH Program: Helping Individuals Go Higher — a creative initiative to help motivated, homeless students realize their dreams of earning a college degree. Mrs. Wilson first began the program shortly after arriving on campus in 2013 after learning about a student living in her car because she couldn’t afford to pay for tuition and a place to live. Mrs. Wilson believes that no student should have to choose between higher education and survival. Mrs. Jacqueline Wilson is championing the cause of homelessness at Wayne State and in Detroit. She serves on the Board of Directors for Covenant House, a shelter for homeless youth, and is a member of the City of Detroit Homelessness Task Force Committee. Mrs. Wilson’s work in the Detroit community has already distinguished her as a Comcast Newsmaker and one of the Michigan Chronicle’s 2015 Women of Excellence.
Hear what students have to say about the HIGH Program: