In the forward of the book, Closing the Opportunity Gap: Identity-conscious Strategies for Retention and Student Success, editor Sean Harper provides three strategies to close the opportunity gaps for underserved students (first-generation, lower-income, and/or racially minoritized students) in higher education. He suggests that institutions and colleagues within our institutions 1) seize opportunities to right past wrongs, 2) address systematic institutional threats to achievement and 3) learn from the success of students who have overcome these barriers (pg xii). Dr. Harper asserts that “our opportunity gaps are the by-product of structural disadvantage and disregard, not a result of students’ unwillingness to be successful” (pg. xi). Dr. Genyne L. Royal recommended this book and the Student Success Strategic planning group (along with other MSU faculty and staff) are using the information provided to inform our student success efforts this year. It has often been said, that we believe that every student that is admitted to Michigan State University, can succeed, and it is with that focus that we engage this academic year and our commitment as a community to student success.
Executive Director of the University Innovation Alliance, Dr. Bridget Burns, shared a similar perspective to Dr. Harper’s opening at this year’s Student Learning and Success Launch. She shared her own experience as an under-resourced college student, outlining the ways in which higher education was not established to support, develop and educate the diversity of today’s students. The University Innovation Alliance seeks to re-design educational institutions to meet our students’ needs through innovation, collaboration, and empathic design.
One of the goals of this year's Student Learning and Success Launch was to provide narratives of the potential impact of educational institutions when we seek to engage our work in the manner that the University Innovation Alliance suggests. While Dr. Burns reminds us of the ways to engage our work for the benefit of the individual student as well as broader society, Dr. Royal reminded us of the losses we encounter when we as an educational system fail to engage our students in meaningful ways. As such, Dr. Royal, assistant dean for student success initiatives and director of the Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative, spoke about one such potential college student she met during outreach efforts with a Texas community. It was there that she met a young man, who, although successfully completing all of his courses for his high school diploma, had failed to pass a standardized state test, which prevented him from graduating. This student ultimately relinquished the idea of getting his high school diploma, abandoning any opportunity to earn an advanced education. It was through these narratives that we were challenged to explore the existing disparities in access and resources, as well as care and concern for students well-being and intellectual engagement for many of our students, the need to engage in problem-solving with compassion and empathy, and the importance of proactive/intrusive advising.The launch also centered the perspectives of our current students and reminded us to continue problem-solving with our students. Three students took a few moments to share their experiences at MSU including how they have felt supported, they learned and developed, and what MSU should address on behalf of students who represent our opportunity gaps. Miyanna Fowlkes said one approach we could take to further student success was to hire counselors whose identities look like those of our students. Mariana Fulgencio suggested more support through identity conscious programs, and Rumaisa Sababa Rahman stated that an alumni mentor associated with her major would have been helpful during her academic journey.
The launch serves as one of the bookends of MSU’s student learning and success efforts. This year, we highlighted the revised MSU strategic plan for learning and success and the ways in which will organize ourselves to achieve the goals and objectives associated with this plan. In May, we will come back together for the Student Learning and Success Summit.
Dr. Mark Largent, interim associate provost for undergraduate education and interim dean of undergraduate studies, closed out formal remarks by expressing our gratitude for your partnership and success in increasing our students’ credit momentum. We are excited about the continued increase in the percentage of new and returning students attempting 15 credits while those same students sustain their academic standing and persistence. Substantially more first-year students (930 Students, a 63% increase) attempted 30+ credits last year. In addition, first to second-year persistence increased slightly with a substantial increase in the number of first-year students who attempted 30+ credits and persisted to second year (840 students, a 39% increase).
Finally, we ended the event with two dozen updated or new student learning and success posters that highlighted various efforts across the campus dedicated to improving student outcomes and closing our opportunity gaps. A video of the presentations can be found in MSU Media Space here, and the posters can be found in a google folder here.
Thank you for attending this year’s launch and for being partners with us for student learning and success! We also appreciate the guidance and support of our launch planning committee (Deb Dotterer, Danielle Flores Lopez, Ray Gasser, Ashley Green, Renata Opoczynski, Genyne Royal) and our two dynamic organizers, Michelle Carlson and Kristi Porrell.
We look forward to another challenging year ahead with hope and the belief that we can continuing shaping MSU to support students as they learn and grow on the path to graduation and life as global citizens.
Amy Martin and Genyne Royal
Citation: Harper, S. R. (2016). Closing the Opportunity Gap: Identity-conscious Strategies for Retention and Student Success. Stylus Publishing, LLC.