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Open House

At LSA, access to education means more than an open door. It means asking students who might not have U-M on their radar to consider LSA, and it means making sure all students have the resources they need to succeed.
by Brian Short

This is an article from the fall 2019 issue of LSA Magazine. Read more stories from the magazine.

He and the transfer team travel on behalf of the college to meet potential transfer students where they are. It’s very important, Hartman says, to reach students while they’re still actively making decisions about their academic career — and to dispel a few myths.

“There’s a mindset, particularly from community colleges here in Michigan, that U-M is not accessible,” Hartman says. “Some students don’t think we accept transfer students at all. Others look at the data on the admissions site. They see the stats for the incoming first-year class and say, ‘I’m not anywhere near that. What’s the point of thinking about it because I won’t get in?’”

Hartman works hard to show that people exactly like the students he’s talking to do get in — and thrive. Hartman’s office works with programs across campus to give potential transfer students a sense of what U-M is like. There are two specialized days for transfer students to visit campus based on their academic interests, one for students with STEM interests and another for students planning to major in humanities or social sciences. U-M’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program runs a summer fellowship that brings Michigan community college students to campus for ten weeks of research done in close collaboration with University of Michigan faculty. And the new Transfer Bridges to the Humanities@Michigan program, funded by a $1.6 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, connects LSA with Henry Ford College to support prospective transfer students throughout the transfer process. The program offers students the opportunity to participate in U-M programs such as optiMize and the LSA Opportunity Hub prior to transferring, and it engages collaboration between LSA and Henry Ford faculty to build better curricular pathways for the students.

All of this is done to give transfer students the understanding and perspective they’ll need to be successful once they arrive on campus.

Despite these and other efforts to introduce students to U-M’s communities and opportunities, Hartman still faces skepticism in conversations with prospective transfer students. The argument that Hartman offers to students who have this kind of doubt is simple: Students who transfer to U-M succeed.

“Transfer students succeed just as well as other students at U-M,” Hartman says. “Their grade point average at graduation is almost exactly the same as for students who came directly out of high school. There’s sometimes a struggle that first semester, but it’s not like they’re getting here and just barely scraping by.

“So we tell them that,” Hartman says. “We tell them that the proof that they belong here is that people just like them have come here, and they’ve done really well. And they can, too.”


The outcome might be the same in terms of grades, Hartman says, but the path to graduation can look and feel a lot different for a transfer student. Transfer students show up with different challenges than some four-year students do. First, there’s impostor syndrome — the feeling that they’re not meant to be here, that they’re fakes and they’ll be exposed for not being “real” students.

There are also gaps in understanding about how majors work and how campus operates. Workshops in the Newnan Advising Center and a network of committed faculty members dedicated to helping transfer students go a long way toward ameliorating these problems. A team of 15 transfer student ambassadors also helps with outreach and mentorship for new students.

The college has done a lot, Hartman says, especially in the last four years to change the process and expand the resources available to transfer students.

“We’ve built a structure for students that they’ll interact with from the time they first start thinking about coming to U-M to the time they graduate. We work to help them integrate to campus successfully, to help them integrate into their studies successfully, and then to graduate and move on. And if we’re successful, it’s because a lot of these initiatives came out of listening to transfer students talk about what they need.”

Another resource that came out of conversations with transfer students about their needs is the new Transfer Student Center, set to open in 2020 in the renovated LSA Building. The Transfer Student Center will offer a space for transfer students to meet, chat, study, and learn more about the university —and it can serve as a home base for commuter students.

“We hope students will see the transfer center as somewhere they can get what they need to be successful here,” Hartman says. In addition to on-site staff, Hartman’s office is actively trying to set up drop-in hours for organizations from across campus, including study abroad programs and the LSA Opportunity Hub. “Knowing what’s available to you is a key piece of the transition process,” Hartman says. The speed at which students catch up with this information is incredibly important, because transfer students are only on campus for a short time. Despite their brief time on campus, though, transfer students make a strong impression—and add real value, Hartman says.

“A lot of faculty say, ‘I love having transfer students in my classes because they have a unique perspective,’” Hartman says. “This is a group of students that kind of flies under the radar. Some people don’t even know they exist, to be honest. But they add so much to our community in terms of life experience.

“We have students here now who never thought something like this was possible,” Hartman adds. “We’re trying to get out there so that students like that can realize that U-M is an option.”


“When I started 20 years ago,” says Doug Fletcher, director of the LSA Scholarships Office, “there were two programs. There were four-year scholarships for incoming first-year students, and there were scholarships for current students who needed help with tuition. The idea was that students would go to school for four years, get their degree, and get out the door. It’s not like that anymore.”

As the times have changed, Fletcher says, so have the systems put in place to support students. Now providing access to a Michigan degree means working to give every student an opportunity to participate in all aspects of life in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

That means the chance to make professional connections through internships, even unpaid ones. It means getting help applying and paying for a passport and for opportunities to learn about other cultures and foreign perspectives through study abroad programs. And it includes participating in the kinds of regional and national academic and professional programs — including Camp Davis, the New England Literature Program, the Great Lakes Arts, Cultures, and Environments Program, and more — that would be a lot easier if students weren’t trying to pay for all of it themselves.

Students and their families can be skeptical about these kinds of programs, Fletcher says. There are concerns about unseen costs, about what kind of financial support the college will provide, about months that may have otherwise been spent working and earning money. When Fletcher started, that’s absolutely what students would have been doing — working for the summer. But expansions in support programs and in the kinds of academic, professional, and experiential programs that scholarship support covers make it possible for students to use their whole year to explore, experiment, and learn about themselves and the world — not just  during their semesters on campus. That’s a point that Fletcher stresses to students.

“It’s not just about an academic degree anymore,” Fletcher says. “Those kinds of experiences are necessary for being successful in the job market, for being an educated citizen and person.

“We look at students as individuals, and we’re trying to help them to have opportunities that a lot of wealthy students have in order to be competitive and leave with a resume that’s going to help them move forward.”


The kind of wraparound student support that LSA provides works against some of the forces that make completing a degree difficult — especially for students with low socioeconomic status. Nationally, about half of students who start at community colleges or four-year-degree colleges drop out within six years of starting. Students from families earning under $35,000 a year have a staggering 1 in 17 chance of graduating with a bachelor’s degree by age 24.

Part of the issue, Fletcher says, is that students qualifying for need-based scholarships face problems that don’t track well on a spreadsheet. Some face pressure from their families or themselves to send money back home. That can mean that money meant to pay for tuition isn’t there when the bill comes due, which means getting kicked out of school.

LSA’s scholarship office works with students to help deal with crises like these as they come up, and to identify places where students are paying for things such as tutors without which it would be difficult for them to thrive — or even participate — in classes and in college.

“Listening to students and working closely with departments, we’ve figured out a lot of the hidden costs that students deal with,” Fletcher says. “Scholarships, gifts, and donors have done an incredible amount to help cover those.

“We all want to level the playing field,” Fletcher says. “We all want to create access. We all want students coming in from all walks of life, students with low-income status, students from rural areas. But it’s important that we’re not just bringing them in. The college is supporting them in ways that build their confidence, in ways that prepare them to go back to their community, to go out and start working. We take that seriously, and we do everything we can to help students achieve.”


There is a program to make sure students have laptops and a program to make sure students can get passports easily — an essential first step to studying abroad. There is a concerted and ongoing effort to find and equalize obstacles so that students coming into the college with fewer resources get access to the exact same opportunities as any other student.

And the costs and challenges can be much harder to see or anticipate than a laptop is, says Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Professional Development and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Psychology Fiona Lee. As an example, Associate Dean Lee points to an essay written by a student that describes their experiences growing up in a financially disadvantaged background. The only source of food that was both affordable and accessible was a neighborhood gas station.

“When the student came to U-M, they found nothing they recognized as food in our dining halls. For example, they did not recognize cheese, something they liked, because the only cheese they had known came in a squeeze bottle.

“So simply eating required spending time, energy, and mental resources,” Associate Dean Lee says. “This is way before we start considering inequities that come from not having access to laptops, tutors, and study abroad programs. We must understand the constant toll hidden costs can have on these students, and work hard to level the playing field for them.”

Combining community, equity, and academic resources in a cohesive way means investing in multiple paths and programs that can provide students with wraparound support. One example of this is the Kessler Presidential Scholars Program, founded by alumni Fred and Judy Kessler Wilpon, which provides four years of financial support to exceptional first-generation students. Students are organized into close-knit cohorts and supported by a team of professional staff to help them explore U-M and to empower them to succeed and lead after college.

Working in the same model by combining a cohort community program with comprehensive wraparound support is LSA’s new U.P. Scholars Program. The U.P. Scholars Program supports students from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with four years of tuition as well as on-site academic counseling and specific curricular and pre-professional programming. The program, which plans to support 5-10 students each year, will launch in fall semester 2020.

The college is also making significant investments in wraparound support for all LSA students together through the LSA Opportunity Hub. This past year LSA awarded more than $1 million for students to gain access to internships around the globe. The Hub also supports exploration-based, regionally focused flash internships in fields such as writing and publishing in New York, technology in Silicon Valley, sustainability in Houston, and health in Nashville. These are all funded opportunities that are hosted and driven by alumni, and that create incredible access to a range of vital industries. The Hub also hosts alumni networking events and works with recruiters to connect them to the brightest students in the country.

These and other programs do and will succeed by finding and erasing barriers to academic achievement, professional success, and personal fulfillment wherever they’re found. They work because they’re built based on sound research and on what students themselves say they need to come, stay, and succeed at LSA.

“Need-based scholarships can bring top students who might not be able to afford college tuition through the door,” says Associate Dean Lee. “This is critical, but we also have to engage in the hard work of keeping these students at U-M. We need to assure them that they belong in U-M, and support them so that they can thrive and be successful. We have to be deliberate in creating this support because it does not happen naturally.”



Illustrations by Becky Sehenuk Waite

Release Date: 10/14/2019
Category: Students; Staff
Tags: LSA; LSA Magazine; Brian Short; LSA Scholarships