Hannah Administration building covered in snow

The spring 2019 semester began with very good news about student success at MSU. The probation rate for first-year students at MSU fell to its lowest level in recorded history.
The spring 2019 semester began with very good news about student success at MSU. The probation rate for first-year students at MSU fell to its lowest level in recorded history. Only 6.7% of MSU’s students ended their first semester on probation. We have been tracking first-semester probation rates for nearly a quarter of a century and, until relatively recently, the rate hovered at nearly 10%.


There is a powerful correlation between end-of-first semester probation and overall graduation rates. Only about a third of the students who find themselves on probation at the end of their first semester eventually graduate from MSU. So, decreasing probation rates suggest that our graduation rate – which also reached an all-time high of 80% – is likely to continue to improve. This rising tide of student success follows our concerted effort over the last six years to improve student success at MSU.

The improvements we have experienced in probation and graduation rates over the last decade have not been evenly distributed across various subgroups of students. As the tide rose, opportunity gaps developed or persisted between the university’s average rates and those of many subgroups of students. For example, end-of-first semester probation rates for Latinx and Black/African-American students, students who receive Pell, and first-generation students were considerably higher than the university average. Subsequently, six-year graduation rates were 10-20 percentage points lower than the university average.


We are now beginning to see trends in both probation rates and graduation rates that demonstrate that our efforts are both raising the tide of student success and closing opportunity gaps. In 2011 the six-year graduation rate for international students, for example, was eight percentage points lower than the university average (69% compared to 77%). By 2018, there was only one percentage point difference and the university average had increased by three percentage points to 80%. Similarly, the opportunity gap in six-year graduation rates for Black/African-American students had shrunk from 22 percentage points to 14.


When we look more deeply at the fall 2018 end-of-first-semester probation rates, we see good reason for optimism. The fall 2018 probation rate was at an all-time low and it declined for Latinx and Black/African-American students, students who receive Pell, and first-generation students. The tide is rising and the gaps are closing. We suspect that this is due in no small part to the major reforms undertaken in gateway mathematics classes and in our ongoing identity-conscious strategies for student success. Student learning and success is everyone’s responsibility, so the credit for these successes is shared by all as well.


There is, nonetheless, significant work that needs to continue. The implementation of flat-rate tuition and the Student Information System modernization project are two tremendous opportunities to look carefully at our policies, practices, curricula, habits, and institutional structures. Ultimately, we want MSU to be known by the students it graduates, and this can happen only if everyone continues to take responsibility for student learning and student success.


Feedback and suggestions, especially from the MSU community, welcome: email largent@msu.edu.

Mark Largent is the Interim Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Interim Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Michigan State University.