Detroit Regional Chamber > Chamber > Education Warrior: Honoring M. Roy Wilson for a Decade of Transformational Leadership

Education Warrior: Honoring M. Roy Wilson for a Decade of Transformational Leadership

July 6, 2023 James Martinez

James Martinez | Metro Detroit Freelance Writer

  • Dramatic graduation rate increase has led the nation with focus on minority students.
  • Wayne State helping Region move toward 60% educational attainment by 2030 goal with innovative programs like Warrior Way Back.
  • First Lady Jacqueline Wilson has left indelible impact on campus.

Less than a year into his tenure as Wayne State University’s 12th president, M. Roy Wilson expounded upon higher education’s role in equity at the 2014 Detroit Policy Conference.

“The social mobility made possible by higher education is a key to a thriving middle class in a democratic society. If that mobility is offered to some and not others, we create two societies,” Wilson warned.

A decade later, as his tenure concludes, the wisdom of his view on education as a means to create social mobility is evident in the turnaround he has led at Michigan’s only urban research university.

In 2021, Wayne State reached a graduation rate of 55.8%, an increase of 3.9 percentage points over the prior year despite the pandemic, and a 115% increase over the past decade from 26%. That included having the highest increase in graduation rates in the nation – a 21-point improvement from 2012 to 2018, as recognized by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

“M. Roy Wilson has delivered a decade of transformational leadership at Wayne State University, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his service,” said Sandy K. Baruah, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “Under his leadership, the quality of education and graduation rates, especially those of persons of color, have improved notably.”

Mission Critical: Helping Economically Disadvantaged Students Succeed

Gains have been particularly significant among Black students. The Black graduation rate as of October 2021 was 34.6% — a 9.8 percentage point jump from the previous year and a 355% improvement in the last decade from 7.6%. In 2022, Wayne State ranked as the best public university in Michigan for helping economically disadvantaged students succeed and graduate by the U.S. News & World Report 2022-23 Best Colleges rankings.


M. Roy Wilson posing with students at Wayne State University

Photo courtesy of Wayne State University.

“Before President Wilson’s tenure, Wayne State had one of the lowest graduation rates for Black students in the country, and low-income students too often lacked the support to complete their degree. President Wilson deserves a lot of credit for changing that,” said Greg Handel, the Chamber’s Vice President of Education and Talent, who presented Wilson with an Excellence in Education Leadership award in 2019.

Under Wilson, the university received national attention for creating the Warrior Way Back debt forgiveness program, which enables students with an outstanding balance of up to $4,000 to re-enroll to complete their degree free of their past balances.

“He has had a relentless focus on student success and improving graduation rates that’s essential to helping this Region reach its educational attainment goals by 2030,” said Handel, noting that the university also receives the most Detroit Promise students, partnering with the Chamber to offer Detroit high school graduates a tuition-free path to postsecondary credentials.

Wayne State also recently partnered with the Henry Ford College Learn4ward program offering Henry Ford students – including more than 2,000 from Detroit – guaranteed admission to Wayne State and a pathway to a four-year degree.

Much of that work will continue under Wayne State’s 2022-27 “Our Moment in Time” strategic plan, which prioritizes student success, impactful engagement with the City of Detroit and surrounding communities, as well as academic excellence, research that tackles real-world problems, and interdisciplinary collaboration.

First Lady Jacqueline Wilson Leaves Her Mark on Campus

Leadership and relentless commitment to Detroit are tenets also carried forward by Wayne State’s First Lady Jacqueline Wilson, who worked in lockstep with President Wilson to help achieve his vision for Wayne State.

A former energy consultant for Schneider Electric with more than two decades in corporate sales for AT&T and WorldCom, Mrs. Wilson built strong ties throughout the community and leaving her mark on campus as well.


M. Roy Wilson and Jacqueline Wilson

Photo courtesy of Wayne State University.

In 2013, she launched the HIGH (Helping Individuals Go Higher) program to help homeless, precariously housed, and financially challenged students continue toward earning a degree from Wayne State by providing resources such as housing support, textbooks, and child care support for students in need.

She also served on the Women’s Advisory Council for Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, the Samaritas Advisory Council, and the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit Board of Directors.

“We thank Roy and Jacqueline for their significant impact in Detroit, but are very glad they’re planning to stay connected to the city and Region,” said Baruah. “We wish them the very best in their next chapter.”

Providing Renowned Leadership Beyond Academics

As an acclaimed doctor who formerly served as a deputy director at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health, Wilson also played a key role in shaping Michigan’s response to COVID-19.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed him to Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities and was charged with various duties including increasing access to COVID-19 testing for vulnerable communities. He also served on the state’s health care advisory group of the Michigan Economic Recovery Council.


M. Roy Wilson on CNN discussing COVID-19

Photo courtesy of Wayne State University.

“The deadly disparities playing out in Black and brown communities today are largely a result of underlying conditions that have persisted in our communities long before this outbreak,” said Wilson at the time. “Our fight against COVID-19 demands that we confront and eliminate these conditions.”

In addition, he served on many boards including with the Detroit Regional Chamber from 2014 to 2020 and with Baruah on the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Board.