Commentary: Oakland University is Helping Students Focus on the Finish Line

Commentary: Oakland University is Helping Students Focus on the Finish Line

August 27, 2012/The Detroit News

By Gary Russi

It is well documented that obtaining a college degree is a critical investment for most people looking to succeed in life. On average, college graduates earn at least $30,000 more per year than high school graduates, and the return on investment is even higher for advanced degree holders.

None of this matters, however, if and when a student is unable to complete his or her college education.

We in Michigan's public higher education system know that we'll need to boost current graduation rates in order to maintain or enhance the level of state funding support our schools receive. And while we are concerned about any potential loss of state funding, the focus that Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature have put on ensuring that more students graduate is appropriate.

The hard truth is that we have room for improvement.

This is not to say that colleges and universities in Michigan have been oblivious to the problem. In 2005, Oakland was selected to participate in the Foundations of Excellence, a national project that utilizes a comprehensive self-study to evaluate and enhance students' first-year experiences.

We have since created a University Committee on Student Retention (UCSR) to help vigorously engage students in the college experience, increase student learning and remove barriers to college completion. Our students are increasingly benefiting from a strong level of faculty interaction in the classroom, through undergraduate research and by way of service learning.

Studies have shown that once college students complete 28 credits and attain sophomore status, they're far more likely to graduate. Hence, the UCSR recently funded OU's "28" campaign, an awareness and support initiative that utilizes academic advising, peer tutoring, and financial aid and academic workshops to help see that students succeed in their first year.

Our "Focus on the Finish Line" initiative helps students keep long-term goals in focus through self-assessment, academic and career planning, internship coordination and career search support.

The State of Michigan has supported our efforts. Oakland's Center for Multicultural Studies recently received a $548,000 grant to maintain its Collectively Oakland Retains Everyone (CORE) program. This initiative targets freshmen.

Beyond this, Oakland has established concurrent enrollment programs with four community colleges in the region and worked with K-12 system educators to better prepare students to succeed in college. We've also boosted financial aid resources by $2 million for the 2012-13 academic year, and we're maintaining several programs to assist students struggling to meet costs.

In short, Oakland has been and will continue to be committed to doing everything in our power to boost student graduation rates. We know we're not alone in these efforts. Without question, our sister universities are confronting this challenge with the same fervor. Collectively, we must embrace a culture in which dropping out of college is simply not an option.

Michigan has one of the finest university systems in the country, if not the world, and this is in no small part attributed to the pride and advocacy the people of this state have invested in it. As the 15 public universities work to increase student graduation rates, we cannot afford to lose this support.
The problem of college completion is as complex as it is formidable, and it is not confined to college campuses. As much as solutions are to be found from within the universities, they're also ready to be discovered in our public schools, in our homes and in Lansing.

We can build a secure and prosperous future for Michigan — one that embraces a highly educated, adaptable and productive workforce.

Before we'll realize that goal, however, we'll need to work together to overcome hurdles standing in the way of individual student success.

Gary Russi is the president of Oakland University.