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Student Success

At Michigan State, we believe every student we admit has the ability to succeed and graduate. We feel a sense of urgency to improve graduation rates, because a college degree is the best route to individual opportunity and an educated workforce strengthens Michigan and the nation. By 2030, we will increase the 6-year graduation rate by 5% to 86%.

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.

Understood this way, student success is not a measure of the academic achievement of either individual students or students collectively; rather, measures like academic standing, persistence, graduation, sense of belonging, engagement, time-to-degree and placement rate indicate how well an institution supports its students.

MSU has been a leader in student success initiatives for more than a decade. As a member of the University Innovation Alliance, we have been part of a group of collaborative innovators determined to share knowledge and scale successes to better serve students, raise graduation rates and create equitable educational outcomes. MSU’s introduction of the Neighborhoods concept in 2010 — bringing together key resources and services students need within easy walking distance of the areas where they live — began a deep collaboration between Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and Residential and Hospitality Services that has continued to improve practices and services with a holistic view of student success.

Six years ago, a data-gathering and analysis effort uncovered opportunity gaps among our students as well as a decade-long trend of undergraduates taking longer to complete degrees. Further analyses revealed students who maintained steady momentum toward degrees with enough credit hours for on-time completion — regardless of demographic or academic characteristics — had higher rates of persistence and graduation. The credit momentum campaign, Go Green, Go 15, implemented in 2017, illustrates MSU’s capacity to dramatically improve student success with data-informed efforts. Redesign of mathematics general education and other gateway courses as well as work to recognize and support students of varied identities and background also have contributed to improved persistence and graduation rates.

MSU’s student success efforts are predicated on the belief that every student MSU admits has the capacity to learn, thrive and graduate, and that we can eliminate opportunity gaps with focused effort. We are diversifying the role we play in the pipeline that produces talent for Michigan and provides benefits for individuals as we enhance support for transfer students and relationships with community colleges. By focusing on graduating the students we admit, whether they begin as first-year or transfer, MSU is committed to making a lifelong difference. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, bachelor’s degree holders earn 81% more than those with just a high school diploma and 34% more than those with an associate degree.

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us both the power and limitations of online learning and highlighted the role of in-person classes and the residential experience in student satisfaction and success. We will enhance the total student experience at MSU recognizing that learning and growth take place beyond the classroom and that connecting to athletics, arts, student-directed clubs and more make up the full richness of what it means to be a student at MSU. We will optimize all modes of learning at MSU and achieve new highs in graduation rates and postgraduate success. We will partner with government and business leaders to better identify the skill sets and experiences our graduates need to succeed in the new economy.

Goal: Provide an exceptional educational experience for all students that prepares them for postgraduate success, achieving high graduation rates with no opportunity gaps

Objective 1

Strengthen MSU’s ability to attract and meet the needs, goals and aspirations of dynamic undergraduate students from all backgrounds


  • Decrease average student debt and maintain access to high-quality MSU education for students of all economic backgrounds by increasing on-time graduation rate for undergraduate students
  • Invest in maintaining and/or building leadership in differentiating and high-demand undergraduate programs (i.e., supply chain, packaging, entrepreneurship and ethics, game design, biological/agricultural engineering, forestry)
  • Ensure all students have high-quality academic and career advising that grows with them from admission through graduation 
  • Ensure continuing quality and improvement of academic programs by clearly articulating learning outcomes; regularly and appropriately assess and align outcomes 
  • Redesign gateway courses to improve learning outcomes and eliminate opportunity gaps
  • Expand and deepen support of Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative initiatives demonstrating success in promoting persistence of students from diverse and historically underrepresented backgrounds

Objective 2

Increase access to and successful completion of highly ranked graduate and professional education by an increasingly diverse population of students


  • Increase the number and percentage of high-quality doctoral and master’s programs by improving existing programs and eliminating programs of insufficient quality through regular Strategic Program Assessment overseen by the Graduate School 
  • Increase the number of quality online master’s programs to improve access to graduate education
  • Develop new cross-disciplinary doctoral programs to provide the multidisciplinary expertise required for many areas of inquiry
  • Increase the diversity of students within graduate programs
  • Increase the number of university fellowships to improve graduate recruitment 
  • Support high-impact mentoring for all graduate students and training for all faculty mentors to fully implement the Guidelines for Graduate Student Mentoring and Advising
  • Increase support for graduate student placement (jobs or further educational opportunities), improve communication about diverse career pathways and options, and monitor placement rates into these alternative careers

Objective 3

Increase the number and diversity of learners we serve through an online learning strategy that provides wider access through targeted programs 


  • Create a dedicated academic unit to support online programs 
  • Create targeted, market-driven postbaccalaureate and post-master’s degrees and certificates that include coordinated continuous-learning programs and alternative credentials 
  • Develop online and alternative pathways for some-college-no-degree students and prospective students who already are in the workforce and/or for those who cannot engage in a traditional course delivery structure
  • Increase access to MSU for students transferring from 2- and 4-year institutions by creating clear and well-supported pathways for transfer students into MSU and by deepening MSU’s relationships with Michigan community colleges
  • Partner with key international institutions to enable students to earn an MSU degree while starting or finishing courses online in their countries of origin

Objective 4

Strengthen each student’s educational experience to eliminate opportunity gaps and support success through graduation and beyond


  • Ensure every undergraduate has at least two high-impact learning experiences (i.e., education abroad, experiential learning) and reduce barriers to opportunities with historically lower participation
  • Ensure all graduates develop leadership, entrepreneurial attitudes and skills, ethics and digital and technical/analytical abilities appropriate for a world transformed by technology and automation 
  • Elevate the stature of the Honors College and enhance the experience of Honors College students
  • Transform the intellectual habits of students by intentionally integrating ethics and the arts into curricular and cocurricular experiences 
  • Increase the number of advisers to better assist students in navigating program, course and career options
  • Continue to standardize and structure a record for cocurricular and extracurricular activities to allow students to better demonstrate the value of their college experiences
  • Increase alumni engagement in student mentorship and career development

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


  • Establish a comprehensive sense-of-belonging initiative that recognizes the individual identities, affinities and aspirations of each student
  • Provide support to student groups to increase reach and resources for student members  
  • Regularly implement campus climate assessments and engage in reflection and action based on the results 
  • Establish a comprehensive holistic wellness initiative addressing academic, financial, physical, mental and emotional health for all students
  • Establish a comprehensive digital experience initiative that enables academic achievement and institutional navigation, including access to digital health and wellness resources, access to technology to engage online and clear, relevant digital communication

Student Success: Illustrative Indicators/Metrics

  • Six-year graduation rate for first-time undergraduates to increase by 5% to 86%
  • Time-to-degree, cost-of-degree, and value-of-degree measures — undergraduate and graduate
  • Placement rates — undergraduate and graduate (increase)
  • Probation rates (decrease and close gaps)
  • Sense-of-belonging measures and climate assessments (improve)
  • Number of online courses, certificates and degrees (increase)
  • International opportunities for students (increase)
  • Number of high-impact opportunities offered; student participation in opportunities (increase)
  • Use of student support services (increase)
  • Student debt upon graduation (decrease)

My Spartan Story

We know each student’s college experience extends beyond coursework and a GPA to encompass valuable experiences and engagement outside the classroom, including leadership programs, research opportunities, internships, employment, service-learning and more.


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Neighborhoods Initiative

MSU’s award-winning Student Success Initiative aims to increase graduation rates and close opportunity gaps for all students, including first-generation, low-income and historically underrepresented populations.


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Next Theme: Staff and Faculty Success