WMU president unveils goal to achieve one of Michigan's top graduation rates

Contact: Paula M. Davis
President Edward Montgomery speaks at the 2023-24 State of the University

During his 2023-24 State of the University address, President Montgomery outlines Western's vision to achieve one of Michigan's highest graduation rates, significantly increase retention and close the equity gap in graduation rates for historically underrepresented students.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University President Edward Montgomery has unveiled a bold vision for the institution, including achieving one of Michigan's highest graduation rates, significantly increasing retention and closing the equity gap in graduation rates for historically underrepresented students. The president, committed to “breaking through barriers” to elevate student success to new heights, announced the ambitious slate of goals during his 2023-24 State of the University address Wednesday.

When the new set of objectives is realized in 2032, WMU will rank third in the state for both retention and graduation rates among Michigan’s comprehensive universities.

"Reaching new heights is critical to our 'So that all may learn’ mission," Montgomery said, referencing the University’s longstanding motto during his nearly 40-minute speech to a crowd of some 275 faculty and staff at the WMU Student Center. "Reaching higher is who we are at this institution in pursuit of excellence. Reaching higher will help us thrive in our intensely competitive landscape."

Elevating student success

The president outlined specific targets to enhance student success. The goals include achieving a 62% six-year graduation rate by 2027-28, with the aim of increasing it to 68%, or 7 percentage points above the national average of 60.9% by 2032-33. Montgomery also called for increasing the first-to-second-year retention rate to 84% by 2027-28, which would exceed the national average by 8 percentage points.

WMU has already achieved significant milestones in its student success metrics, including at record levels in some cases. This fall, for example, the University's second-year retention reached 79.8%, a 3.3 percentage point gain over the previous year. This rate has been exceeded only once in the past 23 years and the increase was the largest in nearly a decade. The University also recorded its highest six-year graduation rate in the last 25 years, based on its recent census.

Montgomery credited these accomplishments to the combined efforts and strategic investments of faculty and staff, fueled by Western’s historic Empowering Futures Gift and the raft of initiatives it supports. The goals announced Wednesday will effectively harness the University's momentum to reach even higher levels of student success.

"Today, we stand less than one percent from our highest watermark for six-year graduation rates. The goals before us now are our new 'sound barriers,' and we must break through," the president said, drawing an analogy to the world's first supersonic flight, a legendary achievement. "While I can’t promise smooth air, our students and the Bronco community are all counting on us."

Montgomery also committed the University to improving six-year graduation rates among historically underrepresented groups. Among Black and African American students, the objective is to increase rates by 8 percentage points by 2027-28 and another 9 percentage points by 2032-33. Among Latino students, the graduation rate would improve by 4 percentage points by 2027-28 and another 6 points by 2032-33, effectively closing the equity gap.

The goals outlined Wednesday align with the 2022-32 Strategic Plan’s vision for elevating the University, including through pursuing academic excellence and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion, even against the backdrop of Michigan’s dwindling population of college-going students and the state’s competitive landscape in higher education.

"Our Strategic Plan is an expression of our collective ambition,” Montgomery said. “A broad cross-section of our campus community was engaged in its development, and it provides a path for us to navigate through challenging headwinds."

Enhancing experience-driven learning

As part of supporting student success goals, Montgomery also announced two grant programs to strengthen experiential-learning programs, an integral part of Western’s identity. These programs integrate classroom knowledge with practical experience, benefiting both students and employers.

The Experience-Driven Learning Accelerator Grants will provide financial resources for well-established programs to scale up their impact on students. Meanwhile, the Experience-Driven Incubator Grants aim to assist emerging programs in establishing a strong foundation. The initial plan is to fund up to 10 grants for each grant type, for a total of 20, with the grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.

More than nine of 10 WMU students engage in some form of experience-driven learning, which enriches their education and creates valuable career pipelines. Programs like WMU's recently expanded Cold Case Program, which partners students with the Michigan State Police to solve decades-old, unsolved cases, exemplify the value of experiential learning.

In outlining the new grant support to multiply innovative experiential-learning programs and announcing the ambitious slate of student success goals, Montgomery asserted Wednesday that with the collective efforts of faculty, staff and students, "I have every confidence that our future is bright and hopeful."

To view and read the entire 2023-23 State of the University address, visit the Office of the President's webpage.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.