WMU part of state effort to boost student success in high-risk courses

Contact: Molly Goaley

Photo of beakers.KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University is among the first of eight Michigan colleges and universities to improve student outcomes in high-risk courses through a statewide effort called Michigan Gateways to Completion.

At WMU, the effort was launched in 2015 as an initiative of the WMU College of Arts and Sciences. The effort called on key faculty, staff and student assistants to create and implement evidence-based plans for improving teaching, learning and achievement in courses that have historically low success rates. The goal is to have students who typically struggle in these courses more prepared to complete them and continue on to graduation.

"The Gateways to Completion program—G2C—enables WMU to better serve those students who are at risk of not completing certain foundation-level courses imperative to their success," says Dr. Keith Hearit, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "As we examine and improve on teaching and learning outcomes associated with these courses, we ensure a more engaged and supportive classroom environment for students. This in turn leads to higher retention and graduation rates, helping students to achieve their educational goals."

Initially made possible nationwide with grant support from The Kresge Foundation, G2C was launched through a partnership with the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. The project is based on the Gardner Institute's Gateways to Completion process, which is used by more than 40 colleges and universities in the United States to help faculty and staff make meaningful and measurable changes in the way they facilitate teaching and learning.

What are gateways?

Gateway courses are high-risk and high-enrollment courses considered foundational to major subject areas. According to G2C data, failure in these areas is directly tied to lack of degree completion—especially for low-income and first-generation students, and students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. At WMU, students can receive academic support in six challenging foundation-level courses in the areas of biology, chemistry, math, physics and psychology.

Katie Easley, director of Student Success Services, is the G2C liaison at WMU. Easley says each of the six courses is directed by a committee of stakeholders who include WMU faculty and staff members, instructors and graduate assistants, student learning assistants, and others who may be invested in the class.

The G2C process employs Key Performance Indicators to further guide the discussions and analyses that each course-specific committee undertakes. The committee members draw on research associated with best practices in undergraduate education to ensure that the indicators address ideas with the most potential to improve student learning and success in gateway courses. Now into year two of WMU's four-year G2C initiative, the committees also measure results of the changes implemented, assess their effectiveness and make adjustments where necessary.

"The immediate and most visible impact is on the students," Easley says. "Our main focus is to help students who struggle in these areas to deepen their learning and improve their critical thinking skills, and ultimately, to graduate and apply their knowledge in the workforce."

By working on methods to improve instructional delivery in critical areas, G2C data already points to transformational outcomes including: increases in first-to-second semester retention rates; increases in passing grades; lower course repetition; and high performance in sequential courses.

Participating Michigan institutions

In addition to WMU, other participating G2C institutions in the state include Eastern Michigan University, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Lansing Community College, Oakland University, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Washtenaw Community College and Wayne State University.

"An additional benefit of the G2C partnership is that two-year and four-year institutions work together toward the common goal of helping Michigan's most vulnerable students achieve success," Hearit says. "Our collective focus is to keep Michigan students on track to graduate, and WMU is proud to be part of the G2C initiative."

For more information about the G2C initiative at WMU, visit wmich.edu/arts-sciences/academics/student-success/g2c-resources or contact Easley at katie.e.easley@wmich.edu or (269) 387-4257.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.