New MSU measures to ensure student success

Posted on: April 27, 2012

Michigan State University is streamlining degree programs and credit policies, increasing academic support and making other changes to improve students’ prospects for successful and timely degree completion.

With higher education costs a subject of increasing concern, MSU’s colleges are revising courses to maximize student flexibility and paring down outdated prerequisites, as university officials consider application of more credits earned through testing or course work.

“We are extremely sensitive to students’ need to earn their degrees in the most cost- and time-efficient way,” MSU Provost Kim Wilcox explained. “Michigan State is doing its utmost to recognize credits its students earn elsewhere and expand other options to efficiently and effectively complete their programs – while maintaining or enhancing the quality of an MSU degree.”

New procedures will allow students to access classes more quickly and to ensure course supply meets demand. More opportunities to earn “credit by experience” also are being explored by expanding internship, research and practicum programs as well as expansion of summer session, study abroad and on-line alternatives.

The university is looking at expanding competency assessment for credit, such as a language proficiency model piloted by the Residential College of Arts and Humanities.

Linked bachelor’s-masters’ programs also promise students ways to compress their pursuit of advanced degrees, an increasingly valuable knowledge economy credential.

Every degree program in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences now offers linked programs offering potential for graduation with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years, Dean Pamela Whitten said. Other changes in the college have enabled students to hit the ground running within their major, such as decreasing mandated course entrance requirements and enabling greater flexibility by allowing more opportunities to include classes from across the university.

“Higher education budget challenges have required that we think about innovative ways to educate our students,” Whitten said. “What has emerged from this is a creative and groundbreaking curricular content.  Most importantly, these new models of delivery provide more flexibility and opportunities for students to earn a world class degree in a reasonable time period.”

The college’s new Integrated Media Arts Program, known as the “Media Sandbox,” started last fall, cutting duplication with a core set of classes across multiple departments. Digital and portable technologies helped enhance quality for all size classes, Whitten said. The college also is experimenting with allowing communications majors to substitute study abroad for a behavioral sciences requirement, while the media and information department allows degree specialization courses outside the college.

Such measures are being promoted university wide, as the university moves to improve its overall accessibility to recognizing students’ credits earned outside its classrooms.

To facilitate credit transfers, the university offers an online tool, Transfer MSU, allowing students to find MSU course equivalencies for any college in Michigan, and many out-of-state institutions. The university is expanding credit transfer policy to recognize all college-level credits a student earns before coming to MSU, if the student has a 2.0 in a the course, including courses taken during high school.  New policies also make it easier to meet MSU’s integrative studies requirements through credit transfer and to allow general education courses taken prior to and following high school graduation.

Wilcox noted that average GPA and ACT scores for MSU admitted students have been rising in recent years, helping create the right conditions for these changes.

“As the quality of our students increases, we can open up more opportunities to fulfill academic requirements in a wider variety of ways,” Wilcox said. “It’s a new way of thinking about things that not only asks more of us as a university, but also challenges our students to ask more of themselves and take more responsibility for their educational progress.”

Making sure students have the academic support they need to successfully complete required courses, avoiding the costly experience of repeating a class, is another component of the strategy. Michigan State has long applied its assessment expertise to identifying and supporting students at academic risk early in their first semester. Programs conveniently offering tutoring services and remedial mathematics instruction in the university’s “neighborhoods” – and in some cases in their own communities even before students start their first term – also are in place or in the works.

Reducing time to college graduation is assuming higher priority across the country as costs rise. Michigan State starts from an advantageous position, earning a “high” ranking in the U.S. News & World Report “2012 America’s Best Colleges” report. The university’s percentage of students earning bachelor’s degrees in six years in 2010 was 77 percent. That is 15 percentage points higher than predicted, given MSU’s mix of incoming students. That’s the highest “plus” increment reported by the study not only among Michigan’s public universities, but among its Big Ten peers.

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