Improving Student Retention through Innovation at UM-Dearborn

In Financial Aid, Student Success by MASU Guest

[Note: This week’s guest post is brought to you by Amy Finley, Ph.D., Dean of Students, and Tyler Guenette, Assistant Director for Success Programs, University of Michigan-Dearborn]

As a Carnegie Engaged Campus, creating pathways for the state’s most economically disadvantaged students has always been a priority for the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Building upon the university’s mission of creating Metropolitan Impact and continuing its work through its Carnegie Engaged Classification, in 2008 the Opportunity Scholarship was created to provide scholarship dollars to students coming from the state’s most economically disadvantaged communities. However, as this student population’s first year retention rate continuously fell 5-9% below the campus average and graduation fell 12% below the campus rate, it became clear that scholarship dollars alone were not enough. As such, the university created a high-tech, high-touch solution informed by research to support its students. This was manifested in the form of a learning community-styled Opportunity Scholars Program that after just over two years has more than closed the first year and second year retention gaps with the Scholars now surpassing their peers by 2-5% each year.

Now called the Impact Scholarship, the program utilizes the gamification of campus resources and engagements to support students in seeking out academic supports and student life opportunities. A key aspect of the program is that students reflect on their experiences to earn points toward maintaining their scholarship and a peer mentor reviews the reflection to provide feedback and answer any unanswered questions the student may have.

“It has allowed me to open up and make friends that I would not have made otherwise. It has also given me the opportunity to learn about all of the resources that are available at school as well as the people who provide them for the students.” –Rosa Gonzalez, Melvindale, MI

Beyond the tech touchpoint, the first-year students also engage with their mentor in person at events that are led by a student leadership board that is responsible for creating social, academic and service programming. Further, by leveraging the coalitions established with cross-campus partners, being a part of this community has become something to be proud of for students—offering unique opportunities, programs, and connections.

“Without the seminar and the opportunity scholar community I do not think I would feel as comfortable as I am on campus or be as active as I am.” -Daniel Andrade

Overseeing this unique program model are Success Coaches, who attend programs to establish rapport with the students. As the Scholars begin feeling more comfortable with their respective Coach, the Coach serves as an advocate and ally as the scholars work toward their success.

Given the success of this program, the University is working on ways to scale the success to impact a broader group of students beginning next year by incorporating in additional scholarship cohorts.

“Becoming an Opscholar helped me in my future goals to overcome my anxiety by being a part of something and not feeling alone in trying to balance out play and work. This program has influenced me to be a prompt student and to always stay on-top of keeping a balance of the stress during the semester.” –Mariam Bazzi, Dearborn, MI

The programming model was designed by Tyler Guenette, who currently serves as Assistant Director for Success Programs in the Office of Student Success. Tyler grew up in a working class, single parent household, and was the first in his family to attend college. Prior to his work at UM-Dearborn, Tyler served as a Graduate Fellow with the Kresge Foundation, and held internships with the Michigan Association of State Universities and the Michigan Postsecondary Credential Attainment Workgroup, where he helped create the Reaching for Opportunity report.