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For the first time in seven years, Wayne State University’s overall student body has grown this fall, officials announced Thursday.

Meanwhile, the four- and six-year graduation rates have also improved at the state’s urban research university, but still lag behind national rates.

Enrollment is up 0.4 percent — or 104 students — bringing the student population to 27,326. Officials have set a goal of 30,000 enrolled students by 2021. The university began losing students in 2009, when enrollment was 30,820.

There are 7,346 new students on the midtown Detroit campus this year, which officials say is the most in recent years and a 2.5 percent increase over last year.

“Our increase is the direct result of hard work by people across the campus,” WSU President M. Roy Wilson said. “Thirty thousand is a tough yet attainable goal, and we’re moving in the right direction. An average 2 percent increase per year for the next five years will get us to our goal.”

Dan Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, applauded the school.

“It is both notable and commendable that Wayne State has been able to increase enrollment while maintaining its unique mission of providing educational access to a wide array of students and simultaneously serving as one of the nation’s premier urban research universities,” Hurley said. “Overall, these positive numbers are indicative of the growing talent pipeline that is integral to the Detroit area’s economic renaissance.”

Among the areas of study leading the growth are the College of Nursing (16.5 percent), Mike Ilitch School of Business (14.1 percent), the College of Engineering (7.1 percent), the School of Library and Information Science (6.6 percent) and the School of Social Work (5.9 percent), school officials said in a statement. Meanwhile, officials reported new master’s degree students in the graduate school are up 41 percent over the past three years.

Incoming students also have improved not only in quantity but also in quality: freshmen had an average GPA of 3.37 and 23.7 average ACT score.

“We’re attracting a higher caliber of student while also remaining a place of opportunity,” said Dawn Medley, associate provost for enrollment management. Besides academics and campus setting “I think more students are drawn to Wayne State because it is in the middle of the renaissance happening in Detroit.”

Wayne State’s graduation rates — a key metric for all universities — has also improved. The six-year graduation rate is 38 percent, up 12 percentage points over the past five years. The graduation rate for all public universities in 2008, the latest statistics available, was 58.5 percent.

Wayne State also reported it had nearly doubled its four-year graduation rate from what it was three years ago, but the rate was not immediately available. The national four-year graduation rate for public universities is 34.4 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Hurley said Wayne State’s graduation rate improvements are even better than what federal statistics convey.

“Recently released data from the state of Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information, which includes transfer students, shows a graduation rate at Wayne State of 48.2 percent — nearly half of all students,” Hurley said.

KKozlowski@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2024

New interim law dean

Wayne State University has named Lance Gable, an associate dean of Wayne State University Law School, as the law school’s interim dean.

Gable, a member of the Wayne faculty since 2006, is an internationally known expert on public health law and bioethics.

Gable succeeds Jocelyn Benson, who last week announced she is stepping down this month to serve as CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality.

Benson will continue her affiliation with Wayne Law as director of the Levin Center at Wayne Law and co-teaching a course on Legislation with former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin.

The university will launch a national search to identify the next law school dean.

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