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Updated 10:00 AM November 2, 2009

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Coleman tells Detroit educators
U-M best choice for high-achieving students

The success story of 2007 graduate Jawuan Meeks shows what is possible for Detroit students who apply to attend U-M, President Mary Sue Coleman told Detroit Public Schools principals and counselors, assembled Oct. 27 at the Detroit Center for the 2009 Wolverine Outreach Workshop Reception.
President Mary Sue Coleman greets Rosalind Stewart, guidance counselor at the Detroit School of Arts, during the Wolverine Outreach Workshop Reception. (Photo by Kevin Brown)

The president and other presenters stressed a broader point that U-M has the desire, resources and commitment to help Detroit students who seek to attend the university to do so and to succeed.

Coleman's appearance in Detroit is part of an ongoing effort she is leading that involves faculty, students, staff, administrators and alumni engaged in unparalleled levels of personal outreach to invite students to apply and, when admitted, to enroll.

Coleman opened her remarks with the story of Meeks, now a Boston teacher. She said he took a broad range of courses, was involved in student government and was active in creating Semester in Detroit, which connects U-M students to the city.

"As a teacher, Jay is doing what he did as a U-M student: Challenging students to find a sense of purpose. I believe Jay is making an important difference in the lives of his students. It's what we call the Michigan Difference — that special way the university changes lives for the better," Coleman said.

For the 2009-10 academic year, underrepresented minority applications rose 3.7 percent and offers of admission rose 8.2 percent, yet freshman underrepresented minority enrollment fell 11.4 percent, reducing the percentage of underrepresented minority freshmen from 10.4 percent in fall 2008 to 9.1 percent in fall 2009 — a drop of 69 students. The president has described the trend as troubling.

She said it is important for interested students to apply, and to know that a range of criteria beyond test scores will be reviewed to determine if a student shows the ability to succeed at U-M.

"Every student that we accept is fully capable of doing the work and more. That's because when we offer students a place at our university, we recognize both their achievements and their potential," Coleman said.

The president said the authors of "Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter," which surveyed 700 universities nationwide, found Michigan offers more student support than any school they visited.

"That means mentors and peers who will guide your graduates. It means resources for their physical and emotional wellbeing. It means campus security to keep them safe. And it means opportunities for recreation and creativity," she said.

"That support also means financial aid, because we never want a qualified student from Detroit to say she or he could not afford to attend the University of Michigan. If your students are accepted to the U-of-M, I guarantee we will find a way to help them and their families pay for it. That is a pledge we make to all students from the state of Michigan," she said, adding financial help may mean grants, loans or a part-time campus job.

Ted Spencer, associate vice-provost and executive director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, stressed that students approached with scholarship offers from other institutions should contact the university with this information, before choosing to attend elsewhere.

Thomas Moss Jr., assistant principal and athletic director at Cooley High School and 1980 U-M graduate, was among several educators thanking Coleman and U-M staff on hand for making the point that an education at the university is attainable by Detroit students. "This picture of U-M being untouchable and unreachable; it's not," he said.

Coleman said social science research demonstrates students learn better in a diverse classroom where the discussion is livelier and students hear a range of perspectives. "Students learn as much from each other as they do their professors," she said. "It is one reason why I feel so strongly that diversity is so integral to the academic excellence of Michigan."

The pipeline into higher education also is strengthened by U-M's Center for Educational Outreach and Academic Success, which engages students at earlier ages by engendering partnerships between the university and K-12 schools and community-based educational organizations.

Several additional measures have been implemented to encourage a broadly diverse incoming class, including use of the geodemographic tool Descriptor PLUS, and expedited admissions and financial aid processes.

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