MSU Student Success Themes

Written by: Sekhar Chivukula

Primary Source:  News from the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education

graphic used to describe the msu student success themes

It is incumbent on all of us who work at MSU to make sure we create realistic pathways so that our students from all backgrounds can meet the learning objectives the faculty have established for MSU programs.

At MSU, we believe that all students whom we admit have the ability to learn, persist, and graduate in a timely fashion. Students, of course, also need to do their part by participating in all course activities, studying, speaking with advisors and faculty, using academic support systems, working with peers to learn together, and by taking advantage of the amazing variety of extracurricular activities that can enhance the MSU experience. However, it is incumbent on all of us who work at MSU to make sure we create realistic pathways so that our students from all backgrounds can meet the learning objectives the faculty have established for MSU programs, and provide the support needed so that each of our students can reach their personal goals.

The central focus of our student success efforts is to increase graduation rates overall, and further to close the gap in the graduation rates between students from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, those who are the first in their families to go to college or who come from less wealthy communities, and the rates for our students from majority groups coming from more privileged communities.

We have grouped our student success activities into the four major themes. These themes, each with an example of ongoing activity for the coming year, are described below:

●      Go Green, Go 15!Maintaining “credit momentum” – aiming to complete 15 credits of coursework per semester, which makes it possible to graduate in four years – has been shown nationwide to be associated with better performance in courses overall. We see the same trend here at MSU: even after accounting for high school academic preparation, on average students from every category of race, ethnicity, gender, and family and economic background who attempt 15 or more credits do better (as measured by semester GPA) than those who take fewer (and especially than those who take only 12 credits per semester). Our Go Green, Go 15 communications campaign is aimed at making sure all students have a conversation with their advisors to make a plan to complete their degrees in a timely fashion, and to maintain the credit momentum appropriate for them. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of first-year students taking 15 or more credits in the fall semester – up from 28% on the first day of class in fall 2016 to 42% in fall 2017.

o   This year, we will continue this campaign by communicating with returning students during spring enrollment, and we are working with colleges and departments to adjust the class schedule to facilitate the ability of students to enroll in 15 credits.

●      Spartan Pathways: The transition from High School to MSU is crucial and is a challenging growth experience for all of our students. MSU programs aiming to address this issue span the entire process from recruiting and admissions, to orientation and summer bridge programs, and introductory courses and first-year seminars.  Additional opportunities for enrichment continue during the summer after the first-year and extend into the later stages of a student’s undergraduate career. “Spartan Pathways” encompasses work with partners from across campus to align and coordinate our activities with one another, to further implement research-validated best practice in these activities, and to identify and address any gaps in our activities to support students through this important transitional period.

o   Our “Spartan Transition to Excellence Program” (STEP) was initiated during summer 2017, and provided incoming students who participated with a coach (a volunteer faculty or staff person) to help them with the transition process. Students participated in a small group experience following their summer orientation session, and continue to connect with their coaches throughout their first year. We will evaluate the effect of STEP from summer 2017, and develop it further for summer 2018.

●      Building Inclusive Communities (#inclusivemsu): Inclusion is a core value of MSU. Our “Building Inclusive Communities” campaign (coordinated by the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives) focuses on creating an environment that enables people, whatever their identity, background, or position, to enter, thrive, develop and realize their capabilities, engage meaningfully in campus life, and contribute to the success of others. For most of our undergraduate students, MSU is the most diverse environment they have ever encountered. As a learning community, we benefit greatly by hearing multiple voices and views, and by developing the capacity to have those difficult conversations that can lead to a deeper appreciation of our differences and similarities. It is, therefore, essential that our undergraduate programs (curricular and co-curricular, whether based in our classrooms, residence halls, or on a study-abroad or study-away experiences) explicitly and transparently reinforce our commitment to making MSU a truly inclusive community.

o   The MSU Integrative Studies undergraduate degree requirement includes the stipulation that all students must take courses emphasizing “national” and “international” or “multicultural” diversity (colloquially known as the “IDN” requirement). In collaboration with the colleges, and the Centers for Integrative Studies, we are establishing rubrics to update and to specify the learning outcomes (kinds of knowledge and perspectives) that should be included in these courses.

●      Spartan Identity: At MSU, students do not just earn a degree – we aim to help them prepare for and meet their future goals. With our “Spartan Identity” work, we aim to synthesize and communicate our vision for an MSU undergraduate education that prepares our students to “contribute fully to society as globally engaged citizen leaders”. A succinct statement of a Spartan Identity will allow us to align our engagement, curricular, and student support processes, and provide clear direction to guide student learning, persistence, and success. Identity, belonging, and self-efficacy are at the core of a successful college experience, and formulating such a statement will help Spartans develop a strong sense of their own identity and purpose, and value those of others.

o   The MSU Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology will engage the campus community in a conversation during the spring 2018 semester to formulate an initial “Spartan Identity” statement. Rather than a one-time effort, resulting in a static statement, we envision the “Spartan Identity” as an ongoing project that will enable students, faculty, and staff across multiple units, colleges, and divisions, to reflect on their individual goals and how they connect to undergraduate student success broadly.

To summarize, we have ambitious goals for our student success efforts. While we are proud of our accomplishments, we know that additional progress is required – and that continuous improvement is necessary. We welcome you to review the material in our student success newsletters and on this website, and give us your feedback. If you are at MSU, we welcome you to submit additional material reflecting your programs and describe how they align with undergraduate student success. Go Green!

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

R. Sekhar Chivukula is the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Michigan State University.

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Sekhar Chivukula
R. Sekhar Chivukula is a Professor of Physics, and the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Michigan State University
Sekhar Chivukula

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