The University of Michigan Standard and the GPPSS

The Grosse Pointe Public School System serves a diverse range of students, but clearly most have a four year college degree as a goal.  The standards of the University of Michigan may provide a valuable guidepost as we build and maintain academic, extra-curricular, and marketing programs.

U of M Logo This spring I have attended various school system events that reminded me of a concept I have been contemplating for some time and introduce here in this blog.

The first event was the annual Grosse Pointe North / Grosse Pointe South Athletic Boosters golf outing fund raiser.  The second was the district-wide 5th grade and middle school band and orchestra performance.  Both were reminders of the outstanding extra-curricular offerings we make available to our students and the opportunities they in turn create for our students.

Let’s start with the full disclosure:  I am indeed one of those proud University of Michigan graduates.

I remember vividly beginning my research on where I wanted to go to college in the summer following my freshman year at Grosse Pointe South.  One college guide said something along these lines about the University of Michigan:

If you live in the state of Michigan and you can get accepted to the University of Michigan, go.  It’s the best deal in the country.

I took those words to heart, worked hard, applied to only one school, got accepted to and graduated from Michigan – with no regrets.

There are plenty of great schools, but to my admittedly biased view, Michigan is the gold standard for most students in the state of Michigan.

Why Michigan and not, say, the Ivy League schools?  Even a Michigan man tips his hat to a Harvard or Yale.  But those schools are elite based in part on their exclusivity.  Michigan is exclusive as well, but not nearly to the extent the Ivies are.  Let’s compare the acceptance rate of Michigan to the Ivy League schools.

School Acceptance Rate Students who were in the Top 10% of their High School Class # of Students Enrolled in Class of ’13
Michigan 50% 92% 6,079
Brown 11% 93% 1,353
Columbia 11% 93% 1,857
Cornell 21% 88% 3,221
Dartmouth 13% 90% 1,094
Harvard 8% 95% 1,665
Penn 17% 99% 2,477
Princeton 10% 97% 1,301
Yale 9% 97% 1,320

Let’s remember that typically the best of the best apply to the Ivy’s.  Their high standard possibly deters many applicants.  All that not witshstanding, based on the acceptance rate comparison alone, the odds of a student getting accepted to Michigan versus an Ivy League school are many time greater.  But even the acceptance rate does not tell the whole story.

Other statistics make the data more compelling- such as the percentage of students accepted from the state of Michigan.  As a state funded institutions, Michigan is required to accept a large proportion of state residents.   3,921 out of 6,079 students in Michigan’s class of 2013 hail from Michigan.  Compare that to Penn, where only 26 of their 2,477 students are Michiganders.  While I don’t know for a fact, I suspect the Ivies make efforts to attract students from as broad a geographic range as possible.  The point is, as a Michigan resident, your odds of being accepted to Michigan are greater than non-Michigan residents.

Affordability is another factor.  Just comparing Michigan to Cornell, Grosse Pointe Schools graduates (as Michigan residents) would pay about half of what Cornell students – roughly $25,000 versus about $50,000 factoring tuition, fees, and room and board.  Sure, $25,000 is not inexpensive, but doubling that cost further raises the Ivy League bar.

Acceptance to Michigan would be an outstanding goal for most of our students and a potential guiding objective for the district.

We want students to shoot for the Ivy League, but we need to be realistic about the odds of a large percentage reaching that goal.  Frankly we want every student to take aim on whatever goal each desires.  But would using the Michigan standard, would we not be aligning the trajectory of those many goals in the best possible manner?  Could one of our goals be to optimize the opportunity for as many GPPSS students as possible to gain acceptance to Michigan?

I touched on this concept in a blog entry I wrote back in August.   As a district if we want to commit to help each and every student reach their goal, each needs their own plan.  Since the majority of our students have 4 year degrees as goals, using the Michigan standard makes sense.  It is an aggressive, but realistic goal.

In my time on the Board I have referenced the “Good the Great” model and the “hedgehog principle” whereby great organizations leverage a defining concept that “unifies, guides, and organizes all decisions.”  What does the GPPSS want to be the best at?  What over-arching concept can help us become a truly great organization for years to come?

Positioning each and every student to achieve their individual objective is a logical candidate – and for many, if not most, acceptance to a great university is a logical goal.  This is something we can brand and promote around.  This makes for a  compelling value proposition.

Outstanding academic credentials are a given, but Michigan clearly values students who distinguish themselves in performing arts, athletics, community service and other extra-curricular activities.

The events I attended this week reminded me of this press release from the University of Michigan regarding their incoming class of 2013.  It really got me thinking about investment and service priorities.  Consider the following characteristics of this year’s University of Michigan freshman class:

  • 43 percent were elected to one or more student government offices
  • More than one-third received all-city, all-league, all-county, or all-state awards in athletics
  • More than half volunteered in hospitals, clinics, or home health care programs
  • 10 percent established a business while still in high school
  • 35 percent published poems, stories, essays and articles, or served as editors of their high school newspaper or yearbook
  • 65 percent play a musical instrument

I won’t dwell on the academic characteristics of a Michigan freshman because it is generally known and accepted that these students excel academically by anyone’s standards.  But this data, free and clear from GPA and standardized test score references, is very informative.  Clearly the most elite public university in the state values a well-rounded student – one who goes above and beyond the normal in academic, athletic, arts, and community service.

From a budget perspective it tells me we too must continue to create opportunities for students in these areas – and more than that, do everything we can to encourage their participation in these areas.  People will often ask me, how can we continue to invest in athletics or performing arts as the budgets tighten?  Behold the Michigan standard for your answer.  We simply have to find ways to deliver on all fronts.  When I see the time and energy invested by the athletic and performing arts communities, it further underscores the importance of these extra-curricular activties.

Not every student who is or could be accepted into Michigan will want to go, but the Michigan standard still serves as a logical baseline

Of course this concept needs some polishing, but there is something to it.

Michigan won’t be the best fit for many students.  Some will indeed be Ivy League material.  Some will want a smaller school.  For some students even graduating from high school can be a challenge let alone gaining acceptance to an elite university.  We must remain cognizant to the needs and goals of all. That is our obligation.

The point is not to railroad students to go to Michigan, but rather use the Michigan high standard as a baseline for programming, investment, services, and expectations.  As the idea evolves, data points and characteristics from other outstanding colleges and universities must be factored.

We must be doing everything we can to enhance the experience our families will have in planning and evaluating college options for our students.  With the collective experience of sending so many students to outstanding universities all across the country, the GPPSS stands positioned to help our families in ways they could never conceive.  For example, most families may go through the college planning and application process just once, or maybe two or three times more.  Collectively, the GPPSS has sent students to college thousands of times over.  Leveraging that experience into a value added service offering should entice more families to want to attend our schools.  Certainly we do this today, but should it not be our goal to be the best at it?

My maize and blue colors are showing, I know.  But the University of Michigan’s reputation is undeniably outstanding.  The high Michigan standard sets a high standard for our students and helps guide our investment decisions.  This concept could help us make the right decisions for the right reasons in a way that adds value to everyone involved.



Filed under GPPS Academics

3 responses to “The University of Michigan Standard and the GPPSS

  1. Great piece Brendan, but if we continue to want our children to have a chance to attend these elite universities we need to seriously look at our High School counseling process. Just as you started researching colleges after freshman year we need to encourage our counselors to meet and get involved with every student to help them make these important decisions.

    As my son finishes his sophomore year he has still yet to meet his counselor face to face, and from talking with other parents I have found that students rarely interact with their counselor unless there is a problem. The college selection and admission process falls on the shoulders of parents, and as you correctly pointed out we have not gone through this before. The University of Michigan, while being an excellent school, is not the right fit for every student but how can a counselor advise wisely if they have not met a student or their family. We need to find a way to better leverage our GPPSS knowledge to counsel these students.

    I also understand the counseling center secretary’s position is being eliminated for the next school year. As a parent of an incoming Junior this is a frightening thought. The counseling secretary is the ‘gate keeper’ for our counseling staff, she helps students organize their admissions paperwork, and makes sure the students needs are met. She wears many hats and the loss of that position will truly be a detriment to our students.

    • Brendan Walsh


      Thanks. As I like to say, we are in violent agreement. This was the point of the piece. We need to be better at this. To be better, we need to establish our baseline, then our goals, then define our gap, then define our gap closure plan. Maybe it’s more counselors. Maybe it’s a secretary. Maybe something else. Probably a combination of many things.

      I have heard from enough people to conclude that we have an opportunity to improve in this area substantially. But the piece is broader than that as well. As I said, Michigan is not the answer for everyone. But having that kind of baseline from which we make staff and budget decisions is a necessity.

      Thanks for the feedback.


  2. Brendan Walsh

    Post Script: The 2010-11 final budget restored the counseling center secretaries.

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