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Updated 12:00 PM June 23, 2005
 

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UROP boosts graduation rates

Studies show a U-M program designed to get undergraduates involved with faculty research makes enrollees more likely to graduate and pursue advanced degrees.

The University Research Opportunity Program (UROP), started in 1989 to boost retention among historically underrepresented students, was expanded to aid all freshmen and sophomores in 1992-93. The program has grown from 14 students in its first year to involve about 1,000 students and more than 600 faculty researchers today.

"We found that having an undergraduate research experience was the single most important variable on whether students went on to graduate or professional school," says Sandra Gregerman, UROP director.

A study of 1,280 students found 82 percent of students participating in undergraduate research went on to pursue graduate degrees. Among African-American males, students who enrolled in UROP had a 33 percent greater chance of graduating than those who didn't join in undergraduate research. A comparison group of students tended to be more reactive and less engaged, she says.

"Students in our program are much more proactive about their education. After working with faculty on research, they are more likely to go to faculty office hours, find their coursework more relevant, and study more," she says.

"This program began with a non-remedial approach to retention. Looking at the education literature, the program's founder realized the importance of interaction with faculty outside the classroom as crucial to the success of underrepresented students on a campus such as Michigan."

As the nation faces a shortage of engineers, a related study of 5,228 students who majored in engineering between 1998-2002 found retention rates were comparable for UROP versus non-UROP students, but program participation made the greatest difference for minorities.

About 20 percent of the UROP students are underrepresented minorities. Once involved with the program, students choose research assignments based on a catalog of ongoing projects requiring assistance. Students then work directly with faculty members on their project, working as few as six hours per week or as many as 15, with eight hours as an average.

Students participate either for academic credit or work-study support, and each UROP student is assigned a peer advisor from his or her discipline. The junior and senior program alumni are important to the program's success, Gregerman says.

"A lot of colleges focus on added help so that students can catch up, but for many students a remedial approach is not what they need," she says. "Getting them involved with research early on helps get them socialized into the discipline, integrated into the academic life of campus, and sends a very positive message about a student's creativity, problem-solving abilities, and potential contributions to a field where you are told you are creative and valuable and have something to offer."

The U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation have supported the long-term study of the impact of undergraduate research on student retention and the pipeline to graduate school to see if UROP's successes can be duplicated at other universities. For more on UROP, visit http://www.lsa.umich.edu/urop/.

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