WMU's Seita program named finalist for national higher ed award

Contact: Cheryl Roland
Photo of Olivia Williams, 100th graduate of the Seita Scholars Program at WMU.

Olivia Williams, the 100th graduate of WMU's Seita Scholars Program

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—As part of its ongoing efforts to increase degree completion, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities today named Western Michigan University one of five finalists for its 2017 Project Degree Completion Award.

The annual prize is designed to identify, recognize and reward public universities across the country for their work in employing innovative approaches to improve retention and degree completion. The Project Degree Completion Award is open to all 237 APLU members, and the WMU entry selected is its celebrated Seita Scholars program, which provides the support needed to help young people who have aged out of the foster care system succeed in college.

A panel of seven judges reviewed the applications and determined the finalists. The award winner will be announced and all finalists will be recognized at the APLU Annual Meeting Nov. 12-14 in Washington, D.C. APLU will promote the winning institution's degree completion efforts among its membership and with external audiences. Additionally, APLU President Peter McPherson will visit the winning campus to meet with university leaders, students and external stakeholders to celebrate the school's role as a national leader in developing innovative programs to increase retention and graduation.

The other finalists for the 2017 Project Degree Completion Award are Boise State University, Colorado State University, the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the University of Texas at Austin.

"Entering college and pursuing a degree is more important than ever before," says McPherson. "But the critical importance of completing a degree is too often overlooked. Raising degree completion rates remains key to achieving our national goal of 60 percent of adult Americans holding a bachelor's degree by 2025. Meeting that goal will require increasing not only the number of students entering college, but just as important, the number graduating. Western Michigan University and the other four 2017 Project Degree Completion Award finalists have made great strides in improving student retention and degree completion. We're thrilled to share their experiences so other institutions can replicate their approaches and results."

The WMU Seita Scholars Program won its finalist slot for increasing college access, retention and graduation among students who grew up in Michigan's foster care system. The program provides students with:

  • A campus coach to help them integrate the foster care experience as they transition into and through college.
  • Significant financial aid.
  •  On-campus housing to ensure program students have a place to stay year round, including during semester breaks.

With 112 graduates, the Seita Scholars program aims to narrow, then eliminate, the achievement gap between students who grew up in the foster care system and the broader population of first-time students. The program helped drive an eight-fold increase in enrollment among Michigan foster youth; narrowed the retention gap between foster youth and the general student body; and raised the six-year graduation rate for foster youth to 29 percent, which is considerably higher than the estimated 5 percent nationally of young people from foster care who complete a bachelor's degree within six years.

The APLU award is part of Project Degree Completion, a joint initiative that APLU and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities developed in which nearly 500 public colleges and universities have pledged to collectively award 3.8 million more degrees by 2025.

About APLU

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities is a research, policy and advocacy organization representing 237 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems and affiliated organizations. Founded in 1887, APLU is North America's oldest higher education association with member institutions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, Canada and Mexico. Annually, member campuses enroll 4.9 million undergraduates and 1.3 million graduate students, award 1.2 million degrees, employ 1.2 million faculty and staff, and conduct $42.9 billion in university-based research.

Learn more about WMU's Seita Scholars Program at wmich.edu/fosteringsuccess/seita.

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