This year’s theme of “Transitions: Transfer Students & Major Changes” was presented in a fundamentally different way.
Editor's Note - Over 300 faculty, academic staff, and support staff gathered at the MSU Union on September 12 to participate in the annual student success launch.  This year’s theme of “Transitions: Transfer Students & Major Changes” was presented in a fundamentally different way. Participants were first briefly presented with a problem, given data about the problem, and then learned about one potential solution.  At this point participants were tasked with engaging in open conversation with colleagues, the content of which was captured through an online platform and will be used to guide the student success work undertaken this year.  The event finished with comments from President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. and Interim Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Mark Largent.  

This annual event serves as opportunity to remind the MSU community that student success is everyone’s responsibility.  MSU’s concept of “student success” is borne of the belief in the potential of every MSU student to grow, thrive, and graduate here, Mark Largent, interim associate provost for undergraduate education, said at the student success launch event. 

Largent was frank in his assessment of how MSU, and higher education generally, promotes student success. “Michigan State, like most institutions of higher education, is not designed to meet all of the needs of all of its students,” said Largent. “The result of this is opportunity gaps, differential rates of persistence and graduation for some sub-groups of students, particularly students from minoritized groups, lower socioeconomic groups, and first generation students.”  

MSU’s educational creed asserts that every student the university admits has the potential to thrive, said Largent, but the opportunity gaps tell a different story. Reconciling these facts is the core of MSU’s student success ideal and requires the campus to ask, “Will we admit only those students capable of graduating MSU, or will we redesign MSU to be capable of graduating every student it admits?”  The campus, he said, has demonstrated its commitment to the latter.

“After what we have been through over the last two years, these kinds of expressions of hope...are especially critical,” said Largent. “You have shown us,” Largent told the assembled, “that you have the capacity and willingness to redesign Michigan State to itself be capable of graduating every student that it admits.” 

The associate provost cited the redesign of curricula from the ground up and a renewed interest in dialogue as key factors in a rising tide of student success. Largent’s evidence that MSU’s student success initiative is a growing success was compelling: “Both our leading and our lagging indicators are showing progress,” he said. “Overall, our six-year graduation rate has risen five points in the last ten years--this at a time when we accept 77% of the students who apply here. We are a tremendously accessible institution, with a graduation rate ten points above what it’s predicted to be given the students we admit.” Largent also cited the closing of average graduate rate gaps for students from minoritized groups as both successes and areas for continued improvement. 

Largent closed his remarks on a hopeful note. “I was very excited to hear on the first day that our first year-to-second year persistence rate for African American students hit a record high. Within the last five years, it has been as low as 82%, while our overall [persistence rate] is usually between 90% and 91%. This year, [the African American persistence rate gap] has closed within two points. It’s been an amazing amount of work. For those of you who did that work, I’m deeply appreciative.”    

President Samuel Stanley, took the stage to make concluding remarks. The president told attendees that when he took the helm of Stony Brook University in 2009, he was more focused on the quality of college applicants than graduation rates. “Luckily, I had a number of inspired people at the university who really started talking about this issue, that we were not doing the job we should be doing. If you looked at the quality of the students we were admitting, we were not graduating them at the rate we should.”

When the Obama administration announced their plans to increase graduation rates, President Stanley traveled to Washington, D.C. and made a pledge to increase Stony Brook’s graduation rate from 47% to 60% in a period of five years. “I’m sure some people in my organization did not want me to go down to The White House and make any type of pledges,” he said with a smile. “But I did.” Stanley credits his colleagues at his former university for their years of hard work in helping them exceed his pledge goal; Stony Brook’s four-year graduation rate rose to 62%. “I was particularly proud...that we abolished the gaps between black and white students,” said Stanley. “We abolished gaps between hispanic and white students. Everybody went up, but we abolished the gaps between groups. That was a tremendous amount of intentional work by a number of very talented people, but I see the same kind of commitment here.”

President Stanley concluded the Summit by expressing his enthusiasm and support for MSU’s student success initiatives.  “I’m really impressed by the way you’re approaching this problem. Thank you for all the work you’re doing in this realm. Again, you’ll have my support. I appreciate your dedication, and I appreciate your commitment to Michigan State University.”     


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

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