Michigan State University boosted its graduation rate to a record high as student success initiatives help more undergraduates fully reap the benefits of a college education.
Of first-time, full-time students who entered MSU in 2013, 81% graduated by 2019. That means of the 7,918 who entered, 6,392 graduated within six years, the federal timeframe for measuring graduation rates. Another 11%, or 863 students, transferred to another institution and 1.5% remain enrolled at MSU.
In comparison, the six-year graduation rate among all United States four-year degree-granting institutions for the 2011 student cohort — the latest data available from the National Center for Education Statistics — was 60%. MSU’s rate had hovered in the high 70% range for more than 10 years before rising to 80% last year.
“Michigan State is committed to the belief that every student we admit has the capacity to learn, thrive and graduate,” MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., said. “We are working on multiple levels to help students overcome barriers they might face, and know we need to continue to do better.”
Additionally, the percentage of first-time college students returning for their second fall semester, known as the persistence rate, is 91.2%. The persistence rate is a leading indicator of graduation, said Mark Largent, interim associate provost for undergraduate education and dean of undergraduate studies.
“We are seeing positive trends in both persistence rates and graduation rates that demonstrate our efforts are both raising the tide of student success and closing opportunity gaps, and there’s more work to be done,” Largent said. “We are committed to redesigning the university to meet students’ needs and help them navigate their way to graduation.”
MSU’s multi-faceted approach to promoting student success is anchored by its nationally recognized Neighborhoods program that brings academic, health and other support services directly into campus residential buildings. A number of other initiatives also contributed to the graduation rate increase.
A heavier emphasis on proactive advising enables counselors to engage with students before academic problems get out of control. MSU faculty file early warning reports on undergraduate students and, for those struggling with a class, academic advisers reach out to those students to help create a plan for their success.
Reforms to some math courses associated with students leaving MSU before they graduate also are propelling increases in student success, as are new math courses designed to be more appropriate for majors less focused on algebra skills.
A financial assistance program for seniors about to be disenrolled due to outstanding tuition balances also is making a difference. MSU Completion Grants pay off tuition balances of up to $1,000 for Pell recipients. Students who received such grants were more likely to re-enroll for the following semester and earn higher grade point averages than those who didn’t.
The campus-wide campaign to encourage students to take 15 credits or more each semester is another part of the MSU student success formula. Taking a full course load helps students graduate in four years, regardless of their academic background, first-generation status, family financial situation, race, ethnicity or gender. MSU researchers analyzed 16 years of student data and found that students carrying a full credit load tend to graduate on time, have higher grade point averages and were less likely to retake classes.
“Being a land-grant university is about access and opportunity,” Largent said. “If our institution was a place that students came and struggled for a year or two and left, we would not be living up to that. When we open our arms and take in a broad segment of students, we have a profound responsibility to make sure those students have the support they need in order to be successful.”