Enhancing student success; closing the graduation gap


Youatt at UIA podium

Earlier this week, President Simon and I were in Washington, D.C. to represent MSU in the launch of the University Innovation Alliance, a consortium of MSU and ten other major public research institutions, working together to ensure that more low-income and first-generation students are supported in their efforts to earn a college degree.

Why? Because high-income students in the United States are seven times more likely to attain a college degree than low-income students.

This graduation gap threatens our nation’s economic prosperity and the personal economic prospects of millions of Americans. By 2016, the U.S. will be 3 million college graduates short of what we need to fill expected jobs. By 2025, the shortage will be 16 million. Raising the degree-attainment rate for all Americans, especially those from minority and low-income backgrounds, is vital to our economic future and to personal economic mobility.

Faced with these facts, partners in the new University Innovation Alliance have agreed to focus their efforts on finding new ways to collaborate and share ideas as they work to improve student success across the socioeconomic spectrum. They will collaborate and share innovation programs to retain and graduate students, scaling successful programs up and adapting them to serve more students across the country.

MSU’s successful work with our Neighborhoods initiative, along with our legacy of commitment to student success, places us squarely at the table for leadership in such an alliance. Housing more than 14,500 students, the Neighborhoods bring the resources of the entire University to students where they live. This model of integrated academic, residential, and student services addresses the goals of giving every student who qualifies for admission an equal opportunity to graduate. Our motivation behind—and our goals for—the Neighborhoods align with the motivations and goals of the Alliance:  to support each student in the best ways possible as he or she works toward degree completion.

At MSU we consistently exceed U.S. News & World Report’s predictions for our graduation rates. Their last prediction for the graduating class of 2013-14 was 70%, and we exceeded that by 8%, for a graduation rate of 78%. This is nothing new for MSU, where we have a longstanding commitment to student success. This commitment honors the covenant we have with each admitted student; it promotes the economic and social prosperity of our state and our nation; and it serves as an international marker of our success as a university.

The Alliance’s first scaling projects revolve around two features: predictive analytics and early interventions. Predictive analytics will help us better identify which students need what types of support, and may eventually help us understand how best to provide that assistance. The purpose of our use of predictive analytics is to keep every student on track toward graduation. By intervening early, we can defuse problems early, or even prevent them from developing.

While we’re still in the very early stages of our work with the Alliance, I’m excited to see MSU engage in this innovative collaboration. Universities—especially public universities—have a responsibility to find new ways to increase degree-attainment for minorities and low-income Americans, so we can improve social mobility and narrow income gaps. In the same way that the 11 Alliance institutions have agreed to work together to confront this challenge, all members of the MSU community will need to work together to help us make progress. It will require University-wide effort and input, not just the work of those assigned to the Neighborhoods. Because, ultimately, it’s all of our jobs to take care of our students. Our institutional culture has to be of that mindset:  it’s all of our jobs—and the responsibility of us all.