Dec. 17, 2020: Spartans step up in a challenging year


Dear Spartans and Friends,

As fall semester concludes and many look forward to a welcome break, allow me to share some recent developments with our Spartan community.

Fall 2020 graduation
This week we’ll salute more than 2,600 MSU students receiving undergraduate or graduate degrees this semester. The commencement ceremonies will stream on the MSU commencement website, featuring remarks from highly accomplished MSU alumni as well as university leaders.

As with those who earned degrees last spring, we look forward to honoring our fall graduates in person at a later date when we can safely gather together. My heartiest congratulations go out to all graduates, with admiration for persevering through a challenging final year. 

Student support and graduation rate increases
Commencement ceremonies are among the highlights of every academic year, recognizing the success of graduates and contributions of the university. MSU’s overall six-year graduation rate rose more than a half percentage point this year, to 81.3%. It’s the sixth consecutive year the rate has increased.

Continued improvement in graduation rates stems from the quality of our instruction and the effectiveness of our student support programs, but we cannot be satisfied until achievement gaps among student groups are closed.

Here, again, we have progress to report. The graduation rate this year increased 2 percentage points for African American/Black students, 3 percentage points for those identifying as Hispanic/Latinx and 7 percentage points for Asian students. The rate for Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students increased 11 percentage points and, while the number of students is small, the graduation rate increased by 14 percentage points for American Indian/Alaska Native students. We’re also pleased to see the rate rise 2 percentage points for international students.

Spartan student-athletes this year also posted all-time highs for the Graduation Success Rate and Federal Graduation Rate. This year’s GSR rose 1 percentage point to 92%, while the FGR rose 3 percentage points to 79%.

Student success, including improvement in graduation rates, will further be supported by the reinstatement of our requirement that students live on campus for their first two years. That requirement had been waived since the 1980s. Current students won’t be affected, but the policy will go into effect with next fall’s first-year entering class.

We know undergraduates living on campus their first two years have graduation rates nearly 2.5 percentage points higher than those living on campus only one year, and among some groups, the difference is even greater.

Organizational alignment
Despite the pandemic’s headwinds, MSU made significant progress this year on internal matters such as our organizational structure. To best align our business unit operations and leverage synergies, we recently announced the repositioning of University Services under Executive Vice President for Administration and Chief Information Officer Melissa Woo starting Jan. 1.

The unit, which handles purchasing, accounts payable, logistics and other important operations, will join Human Resources, Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, Sustainability and Land Management in that reporting line.

Spring semester plans
As we head toward 2021, MSU continues to monitor the pandemic and work with health officials to keep our community safe. With evolving conditions and state health orders regulating our in-person activities, we need to remain flexible and continue adapting as necessary. We worked hard to control the spread of the novel coronavirus in our campus laboratories, studios, classrooms and residence halls this fall. As we expand in-person instruction and on-campus housing for spring semester, we’re implementing new safety measures.

Undergraduates living on or coming to campus will be required to participate in our COVID-19 Early Detection Program. We’re also encouraging faculty, staff and students living locally off campus to participate. Students returning from winter break to East Lansing are expected to quarantine in their residences for 10 to 14 days and to continue monitoring themselves for COVID-19 symptoms.

We’re also asking undergraduates who will be on campus for any reason during spring semester to get the flu vaccination. There are exceptions for this requirement, including for medical, religious, moral or ethical reasons. I hope everyone who is able will get a flu vaccination to protect against additional risk this season and help ease the burden as health facilities approach or reach their capacities.

These measures will allow us to meet the challenge of carrying on the university’s mission and supporting our students’ success in the safest manner. 

Spartans serving society
Spartans continue to contribute their efforts and expertise to help our communities fight the pandemic, as they have throughout the year. MSU experts are using recent grant funding to help expand testing for the novel coronavirus in wastewater in Detroit and elsewhere around the state.

Once vaccines are available to the public, we must take advantage of them for everyone’s safety. College of Human Medicine physician Mona Hanna-Attisha was selected to serve on the governor’s bipartisan Protect Michigan Commission to help educate residents about COVID-19 vaccination. Dr. Mona will provide a highly trusted voice to support this critical public health program.

Meanwhile, more than 40 College of Nursing fall graduates will soon join the front lines of health care, as did graduating MSU nurses and physicians last spring. These and other Spartans are continuing to step up to serve at a critical time, and I can’t think of better examples of what it means to be a Spartan.

Thank you and good wishes
As I look back with gratitude to the students, faculty and staff who responded so well to the challenges of 2020 and to the alumni and friends who helped sustain us, I wish everyone in the global Spartan community a safe and happy holiday season. 

Go Green!

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.