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Minority Serving Institutions Initiative

The Challenge

The University of Michigan has a long tradition of working towards being a gateway to academic opportunity for diverse student populations in graduate education. Historically, U-M has been a vehicle to graduate and professional education for students from diverse backgrounds and from MSIs. Strengthening pathways between MSIs and U-M is an important and underexplored way to expand opportunities for diverse students into graduate and professional education at U-M. Among the DEI strategic plans across campus, nearly half of all schools and colleges expressed a desire to develop relationships with MSIs.

As a result, an MSI Coordinator position was developed and situated within Rackham Graduate School. This position creates an opportunity to galvanize committed U-M units to work collaboratively towards establishing a strategic framework for institutional partnerships with MSIs. It has been a key step towards institutional change and collective impact around identifying strengths, talents, and resources and dismantling barriers to success in order to diversify fields and disciplines. Finally, this position signals to potential partners that U-M is invested in creating sustainable, mutually beneficial, and fully engaged partnerships, in an effort to expand the doors of opportunity to all.

Our Approach

The MSI initiative supports and collaborates with programs and departments to attract, recruit, and retain students from MSIs. We view the role of the Minority Serving Institution (MSI) initiative as facilitating bi-directional relationships between U-M departments/programs and MSIs in an intellectually, culturally, and morally responsible manner. Our goal is to expand access to U-M graduate and professional programs for students from MSIs by shifting to equity-guided policies, processes, and practices.

Our work is guided by the following values:

  • Equity-Mindedness: Shifting from deficit to asset-based framing of MSI to U-M pathways, particularly focusing on the role of institutional responsibility.
  • Social Justice: Acknowledging that systematic exclusion and discrimination of many student populations contribute to disparities and inequities in access to and within graduate and professional education.
  • Collective Impact: Increasing representation requires all stakeholders to fulfill a specific role in a collaborative and fully engaged manner.

We have supported U-M graduate and professional programs in their MSI engagement efforts by:

  • helping programs and departments in outreach to and engagement with MSIs
  • providing campus units with data and historical information about existing collaborations to inform strategic MSI relationship-building initiatives
  • organizing graduate school awareness and preparation events for students from MSIs which include campus tours and departmental visits
  • offering seed funding through competitive grants to support MSI outreach and collaboration

Beyond U-M facing engagement, we are continuing our outreach efforts to cultivate relationships with MSIs. This includes assessing their interests and the ways they would like to collaborate—as that is a core function of this work as well. The success of this work is predicated on the University of Michigan engaging with MSIs in culturally and intellectually responsible ways that acknowledge their assets, strengths, and contributions.

What We’ve Learned

Since this initiative launched two years ago, we have seen increasing interest and engagement with MSIs. We received 14 proposals for the pilot phase of the MSI Outreach and Collaboration grants. This is in addition to a wealth of relationships that already exist within a number of schools/colleges, programs, and departments.

  • Increasing the number of MSIs represented in an applicant pool, or even the total number of applicants who attended MSIs, does not necessarily translate into proportional increases in the enrollment of students who completed their undergraduate education at an MSI.
  • Programs engaged in this work also need to commit to do more than simply increasing the applicant pool and actually admit students from MSIs.
  • It is worth nothing that not all MSI-U-M applicants are underrepresented minorities (URMs).

Next Steps

We will continue to assess the needs of U-M graduate and professional programs in addition to expanding our outreach to more MSIs. Beyond that we would like to:

  • Institutionalize a systematic process across a program, department, school and/or college
  • Identify, promote, and strategically select new MSIs which will be added to the list used for longitudinal tracking of outcomes
  • Provide events, programming, and structures to cultivate a positive climate and support student success for students from MSIs


Rackham Graduate School