Focus on student success


Today, President Barack Obama is convening more than 100 college and university presidents from across the nation at the White House to talk about improving access to college for low-income students.

I truly wish I could be there today. Unfortunately, my duties as NCAA Executive Committee Chair require that I be in San Diego for the association’s annual convention.

Despite this schedule conflict, MSU is still contributing to the conversation. And we have much to offer.

Those who know MSU know our abiding commitment to serving low-income and first-generation college students. Nearly one-third of Michigan State’s students are first generation, and we enroll more than 9,000 Pell Grant-eligible students—more than all Ivy League schools combined. So while many other colleges and universities can contribute to this national challenge by enrolling more low-income students, MSU already serves a very high number.

Our focus, then, is to become even more effective at ensuring that these students—once provided the opportunity to attend college—succeed. We are committed to fostering persistence and timely graduation. Our recent transformation of student support through integration of academic and student services, delivered through engagement centers based in residence halls—the innovative “Neighborhoods” project—has been a tremendous step forward in enhancing success for all students.

Now, in alignment with the White House summit, we are embarking on a new commitment. This year, we will launch the first FOCUS 500 group—500 low-income students who will be provided tailored success pathways, determined by the use of data analytics, delivered through a set of integrated, residentially based academic and student support services.

The goal is to look both across and within a variety of data sets in a timely manner so that students receive the support they need when they need it most. In this way, we will create individual support pathways—rather than one paved highway—making a large, sometimes complicated university easier to navigate, small enough to extend help, and a place to belong. As we learn about how best to use data, our intention is to expand the program to serve more students.

I’ll be interested to hear what new themes and ideas surface from the discussions at the White House today. Whatever they are, I’m confident that MSU will continue to be a leader in providing opportunity for qualified students regardless of means. I’m confident, too, that we’ll continue to innovate solutions to help students be more successful persisting through their college careers and graduating in less time, not only low-income and first-generation students, but all students.


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