Wayne State University, a public research university located in the heart of Detroit, is defying the odds. The narrative of Detroit over the last forty years is one of decline: white residents have fled the city for the “safety” of the suburbs, resulting in row upon row of vacant homes in neglected neighborhoods in the city proper. Today, Detroit stands as a stark illustration of just how much damage the deindustrialization and decimation of a manufacturing base can affect the American landscape.
Despite that backdrop, Wayne State’s six-year graduation rate has climbed to 60 percent, up 8 percent from 2021 and more than double its rate of 26 percent from a little over a decade ago.
Even better news, gains among first-generation, low-income, and Hispanic students are all up significantly, and the Black graduation rate increased by14 percent in 2022.
“I am proud of our overall improvement and that we continue to make significant strides to close the student success equity gap among students of color,” M. Roy Wilson, WSU president, said in a statement. “This work takes a lot of effort and focus, but we’ve shown that it can be done.”
These steep improvements can be linked to a number of initiatives, particularly in what Senior Director of Academic Student Affairs Darryl Gardner called a cultural change undertaken by the president himself.
“This shift has transformed the student experience at Wayne State and led to the university becoming one of the most rapidly improving large public universities in the nation,” Gardner said in a 2022 statement. “I think it really speaks to the collective hard work of the entire campus.”
Some of that credit can also be attributed to the hard work of Associate Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Carolyn Hafner. She has been at WSU since 1999 and has accrued a slew of credentials along the way. Hafner boasts a Certification in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA), is a member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), and is Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), among other accreditations.
Hafner has held several positions during her tenure at WSU, including assistant director of accounting and chief audit executive, and has adjunct professor responsibilities for an auditing course.
Prior to coming to WSU, Hafner built out experience in banking, automotive, and accounting. In her current role, she has helped shift the organization away from using other universities as a benchmark to instead look at how forward-looking businesses are innovating in the higher education space.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Hafner served on WSU’s COVID-19 task force, helped implement flexible scheduling, and negotiated significant change in a heavily unionized environment where employee safety and health is under a microscope.
Today, Hafner leads the human resources function, including payroll, compensation, labor relations, employee development, client services, and HR analytics and reporting, among other responsibilities. She also advises WSU leadership on an array of employment matters and business processes.
Hafner knows that culture and graduation rates go hand in hand, and that while those stats are on the rise, there is still a long way to go. She hopes to do her part by continuing to develop best practices and by continuing to emphasize that the most valuable asset any organization has, especially a university, is its people.
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We commend Carolyn Hafner for her contributions to the success of Wayne State University in pursuing its mission. As a longstanding partner of the institution, Marsh McLennan Agency is proud to help Carolyn and her team achieve their goals.