MSU recently unveiled a new Strategic Plan that includes ambitious, measurable goals that the university will achieve by 2030. Student Success, long a rallying cry and defining mission of the Office of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, is at the top of the Strategic Plan’s agenda!
The Strategic Plan’s definition of Student Success inverts the traditional model: instead of centering success on a student’s assumed capacity or willingness to earn high grades, the Strategic Plan defines Student Success as the measure of the institution’s capacity and willingness to support every student to learn, thrive, and graduate. This framing of Student Success accepts students as they are and makes it incumbent on the institution to support students to become what they want to be.
As outlined by the Strategic Plan, MSU has committed that by 2030 it will have increased its 6-year graduation rate to 86%, which is 5% higher than it is now, and to eliminating racial/ethnic opportunity gaps entirely. These are not two separate goals; rather, they are intimately entwinned. MSU can and will achieve an 86% graduation rate only by closing opportunity gaps because we know that the very same reforms and programs that close opportunity gaps will also increase the success of all students.
The five following objectives as stated in the Strategic Plan benefit students as individual initiatives; when combined, they will enable MSU to meet its overarching goals regarding Student Success. Each is summarized below, with a focus on APUE’s role in these objectives.
Objective 1: Strengthen MSU’s ability to attract and meet the needs, goals, and aspirations of dynamic undergraduate students from all backgrounds
This objective focuses on reforming MSU to make it accessible and attractive to a wider variety of potential students. In addition to new partnerships and programs that will increase access, it includes efforts to decrease debt at graduation and ensure high-quality advising throughout students’ academic careers. Also included are the redesign of critical introductory and pre-requisite courses, investments in successful academic programs and bolstering programs like those in the Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative that have shown success in promoting persistence.
Objective 2: Increase access to and successful completion of highly ranked graduate and professional education by an increasingly diverse population of students
The Office of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education necessarily focuses on the undergraduate population when we talk about Student Success. However, most university policies, functions, offices and aspects of campus life impact students pursuing any level of education. Issues and concerns like campus climate, responsible conduct of research, the ability to find and access appropriate resources, mental health support, and financial aid, all impact undergraduate, graduate, law, and medical students. Tomorrow’s graduate, law, and medical students are today’s undergraduates. Moreover, graduate and undergraduate students are necessarily codependent on one another as graduate students teach or support the teaching of many of our undergraduate courses and collaborate with undergraduate in labs and studios all across campus.
Objective 3: Increase the number and diversity of learners we serve through an online learning strategy that provides wider access through targeted programs
The pandemic has driven explosive growth in online teaching. Rather than a stop-gap measure, MSU sees online instruction as a path to increased accessibility for students and instructors; to allowing students greater flexibility in how, where, and when they learn; and to expanding MSU’s instructional capacity in sustainable ways. The Strategic Plan draws our attention to the requirements that hybrid and online instructional modalities require and calls for increased planning, resources, and offerings to support online education. This objective includes plans to buttress MSU’s efforts to increase the diversity and number of learners in multiple ways: by creating a dedicated academic unit to support online programs; by developing online pathways for students with some-college-no-degree, which is an area marked for focus in APUE in the coming years; by marketing to and supporting prospective students already in the workforce; to increase transfer student access by building on existing relationships and creating new partnerships with 2 and 4 year institutions; and by deepening our relationships with key international institutions to allow course completion or initiation in other countries.
Objective 4: Strengthen each student’s educational experience to eliminate opportunity gaps and support success through graduation and beyond
We will ensure that each undergraduate experiences the full breadth of what MSU has to offer, and this means engaging students in high impact practices like education abroad or away, experiential learning, Honors College affiliation, co-curricular experiences (as chronicled through My Spartan Story), and mentorship. All of these experiences contribute to a sense of belonging. In addition to being a worthy goal unto itself, we know that a sense of belonging is one of the strongest predictors of persistence. This will require MSU to substantially expand both the scope and scale of advising to help students find and explore the myriad options MSU provides in terms of academics and career preparation.
Objective 5: Provide a positive climate and holistic support throughout the student experience, understanding that providing high-quality out-of-classroom experiences and care are essential to student success
Exploring a wide spectrum of options related to identities, affinities, and aspirations is central to the university experience. We are always looking to expand the array of options that will help students know that they belong at MSU — this is at the heart of the “thrive” portion of APUE’s mission to help undergraduates learn, thrive, and graduate. This objective encompasses sense-of-belonging initiatives, support and collaboration with student groups, regular assessment of the campus climate, and promoting and supporting student well-being , holistically defined.
A sense of belonging and well-being are only possible when students have the tools they need to succeed. To that end, this objective also includes a comprehensive digital experience initiative to facilitate academic achievement and institutional navigation, including access to digital health and wellness resources and access to technology.
APUE is now collaborating with partners across MSU to begin the process of implementing a wide range of new tactical and operational initiatives to actualize the Strategic Plan’s Student Success objectives. The table has now been set for us to begin this work in earnest, and we look forward to engaging in this work with everyone passionate about student success.