November 6, 2017

Graduation rate improvements earn applause

When Monica Brockmeyer took the stage at the Education Advisory Board’s 2017 Student Success Collaborative summit, Connected, her goal was to help fellow administrators feel confident making the tough decisions and changes needed to succeed in the current education climate.

Monica Brockmeyer, Wayne State University, Resurgent: A Student Body on the Rise In a TED-style talk, Brockmeyer, associate provost for student success at Wayne State, shared how the university’s investment of resources in student success (including a cadre of 45 academic advisors) has resulted in graduation rates nearly doubling across six years, from a 26 percent graduation rate in 2011 to 47 percent in 2017.

Brockmeyer knew the increase was something to be proud of, but she never expected to receive an immediate and unprompted applause from the audience in Washington, D.C.

“I had prepared the speech with the intent of inspiring people, but I was surprised by the applause,” Brockmeyer said. “I didn’t quite anticipate that. I like to think that other universities might be inspired to be as dedicated as we are.”

The increase puts the university well on track to achieve its Strategic Plan goal of raising the six-year graduation rate to 50 percent by 2021. Provost Keith Whitfield and Brockmeyer believe that the university can reach this goal ahead of target — by August 2018.

In addition to the overall gains, key groups of students are participating in this progress: First-generation students are up 18 percentage points, Pell Grant recipients are up 20 percentage points, and the graduation rate for black students has nearly tripled.

“While our graduation rates for black, latino/a and first-generation students are coming up, those groups are still lagging behind. We need to close and narrow those gaps,” Brockmeyer said. “I have tremendous confidence we can do that by using the same determination and focus that we did to get from 26 percent to 47 percent. I feel excited about that with President Wilson, Provost Whitfield, the team we have in the provost’s office and our work with the schools and colleges. But we have to show the same level of determination. We can’t let off the gas.”

In spite of the general challenge of decreased state funding, the graduation rate increase can be attributed to Wayne State’s commitment to its investment in more academic advisors. Brockmeyer said the increase in advisors allowed them to really talk with students, rather than merely hand them lists, schedules, paperwork and tasks — things that had ultimately become barriers.

“We made cuts in some parts of the university in order to pay for our student success initiative,” Brockmeyer said. “It was very difficult. But we can see from the results we set at Wayne State that making those hard decisions is worth it. It pays off.”

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