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Wayne State program helps adult student return to finish degree


Editor’s Note: This article was first published online by Wayne State University. Kresge is supporting the university’s Warrior Way Back program through a grant to the Talent Hub program funded by Kresge and the Lumina Foundation.

A lot has changed since the last time he was on campus, but Johnathan Williams is excited to find his way back to Wayne State University this fall.

Williams, 46, is the first student to re-enroll through the university’s new Warrior Way Back program, which was announced in May as a novel approach to re-engage students who left the university with debt, but no degree. The program offers former students with an outstanding balance the opportunity to re-enroll and “learn away” their past debt and earn their degrees.

Johnathan Williams says he “was blown away” by the support he received through the Warrior Way Back program, which offers former students  the opportunity to re-enroll, “learn away” their past debt and earn their degrees.

For Williams, who is just 11 credits shy of earning a bachelor’s degree in information systems management, the program was perfect. A full-time information technology professional at Health Alliance Plan and a proud husband and father of three, he had long been considering returning to school.

“After hearing about the Warrior Way Back program, I was a little skeptical at first,” Williams said. “When I spoke to the enrollment and financial aid staff, I was blown away at just how well this program was tailored to my individual needs.”

While Williams’ needs are unique, his situation is not uncommon. He is one of many students who expressed interest in re-enrolling through the Warrior Way Back program, which contributed to Detroit being named a Talent Hub by Lumina Foundation and The Kresge Foundation.

When he first enrolled at Wayne State following high school graduation in 1990, Williams was a serious student. During his sophomore year, however, he found himself feeling discouraged when his grades started slipping, so he stopped taking classes for a bit.

“I got burnt out, so I took a break,” Williams said. “That break, though, got longer and longer, and then life happened. My priorities shifted: I got married, started a family and was busy with work.”

With encouragement from his wife, Shaleta, and their children, Johnathan Jr., Janae and Jamar, Williams began taking classes online and in the evenings at satellite campuses and community colleges.

“Any time I would doubt myself, my family believed in me,” he said. “After that first semester back, I knew I could do it. I have a clear goal in my mind, and I’m so close now – I’m going to earn that degree.”

Williams says his support system has grown exponentially since learning about the Warrior Way Back program.

“I’ve got a whole team at Wayne State looking out for my best interests – enrollment, financial aid, accounts receivable, the bursar’s office, advising. … I feel like a superstar,” he said. “They’re as invested in my goal as I am. They’re cheering me on and pushing me toward that finish line – I’ve never had this much support as a student.”

Williams will take four classes this fall, and he plans to graduate in December. While he’s excited to complete his degree, Williams is also keeping an even larger goal in mind.

“I want to do this for myself, but also for my children,” he said. “I feel so supported in this journey, and I want to be sure they see that and that I’m able to set that example for them: Earning a degree is so important, and it’s possible.”

For more information about the Warrior Way Back program, and to see if you qualify, complete the online form.