The Student Success Launch coincided with the official release of MSU’s Strategic Plan, and Student Success has emerged as central to that plan.

Last week’s Student Success Launch in the Kellogg Center was a welcome and joyful reunion for many of us working on student success initiatives at MSU.  After 18 long months of Zoom meetings, it was the first time many of us were physically together since March 2020. Those of us who could not attend in person were welcomed online, and the event was a productive start to the new year. Thank you to all of you who organized, spoke at, and participated in the event!

The Student Success Launch coincided with the official release of MSU’s Strategic Plan, and Student Success has emerged as central to that plan. The university has committed to increasing its six-year graduation rate another five percentage points to 86% by 2030 and to eliminate opportunity gaps among students of different races and ethnicities at MSU. These sound like two distinct goals, but in fact they are a single coherent objective: by closing opportunity gaps at MSU, we will raise our graduation rate to 86%.

There are several features of the university’s strategic plan that I find particularly exciting. I am most perhaps most enthusiastic about its blunt reframing of student success away from being a moral claim about an individual student’s supposed willingness or ability to learn, thrive, and graduate to focusing on meeting students’ needs by reforming our university. As the plan states, “Student success is the measure of an institution’s ability to provide an inclusive, equitable curriculum and environment with the academic, social, wellness and financial support that enables all students to learn, thrive, persist, graduate and succeed after graduation.”

We have learned from our many student success leaders on campus that only by pivoting away from deficit language and toward strengths-based approaches and by accepting the institution’s responsibility for student success can we truly meet our students’ needs.  I’ve discussed my admiration for this approach in previous month’s posts, and I am deeply thankful for my colleagues’ work and leadership on these issues. 

The strategic plan charges us to meet our students where they are, provide high-quality experiences for all our students, and ensure that every student has the opportunity and support to learn, thrive, and graduate. To do this, it identifies five key objectives that will provide access to in-person and online education to people across the state and around the world, and to improve their experiences at MSU and their educational outcomes by providing a positive climate and holistic support throughout the student experience.

Now, we turn our attention to achieving these goals. Our goal of an 86% graduation rate by 2030 means that we have three years to lay the foundations for our students’ success. We must build, reorganize and reform, and expand the many different aspects of the student experience to ensure that the students who start at MSU in the fall of 2024 enter an institution designed to meet their needs and support their learning and success. Three years seems like a very short time, but many of the necessary elements are already emerging or in place. Perhaps the most valuable attribute we possess is clarity of purpose.

At last week’s Student Success Launch, our colleague Renata Opoczynski, assistant dean of student success assessment and strategic initiatives, compared the work to implement the strategic plan’s student success goals to that of “moving a mountain.” While it may seem like an impossible task, she explained, through collective action we could each move our own boulders a little. By doing so in a coordinated way and as a community of leaders we can move mountains. I left the Launch ready to do my part and excited to see our how our work would enable our students to learn, thrive, and graduate from MSU.

Feedback and suggestions, especially from the MSU community, welcome: email

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