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U of M launches new diversity program for Southfield, Ypsilanti students

The University of Michigan Union
Wikimedia Commons
University of Michigan student union

High-achieving kids in Ypsilanti and Southfield: The University of Michigan wants you.

The school is trying to boost its diversity on a campus where just roughly 4% of the student body is African-American, and where many in the black student body say they often feel out of place or even downright unwelcome.

With a state ban on affirmative action at public universities, Michigan is trying something new: it’s called Wolverine Pathways, and it’s set up as a dedicated pipeline for high-performing kids in 7th and 10th grade from these two cities.

On Saturday, a couple hundred of accepted students – along with their parents – filled a big ballroom on campus for the official launch of the program.

Here’s the premise: if these students attend intensive, specialized courses throughout the fall and winter, as well as a 4-6 week program in the summer, and they get into the University of Michigan, they’ll get a full, four-year scholarship.

Parents and students in the Wolverine Pathways program fill a ballroom Saturday for the program's official launch.

It’s a big commitment. The students have to attend at least 90% of the programming, which meets on several Saturdays throughout the school year. Classes range from coding to chemistry to social justice.

10th graders in the Wolverine Pathways program work on poetry writing at one of the first sessions of the new program.

Parents must also attend 4-6 dedicated sessions throughout each year. And no student can drop below at 3.0 grade point average.

Still, parents like Sandra Hall and Alicia Bias are all in. They both have 10th grade daughters in Southfield.

“It’s a great opportunity,” says Hall. “Wonderful school, great city. Diversity, our kids could bring in diversity or whatever. And my [other] daughter goes to West Bloomfield, so this opportunity wasn’t presented to her. I’m loving it. I am PRO this program!”  

“Yes, we are pro Wolverine Pathways!” laughs Bias.

The program’s director is Professor Robert Jagers, a developmental psychologist at the University of Michgian specializing in urban youth.

“Over time, we’ll move to additional school communities,” he says, mentioning plans to add a program in Detroit next year.  “We tried to ... analyze the existing data – and a lot of this is driven by our admissions office – trying to figure out which communities are under-represented with regard to applications to the University of Michigan. But at the same time, had an adequate number of young, promising scholars.

“A lot of the reason for the lack of applications, it’s not that they don’t have the potential or the grades or the scores, it’s that they don’t see the University of Michigan as a place for them,” says Jagers. “I think the university, like a lot of major universities, has a lot of work it could do to make the university community more hospitable … and supportive to all its students, but especially to those from diverse backgrounds.”  

No one from Wolverine Pathways is guaranteed admission into the University of Michigan, administrators stress.

You can find out more information about the program, and how to apply, here

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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