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To increase student body diversity at the University of Michigan, President Mark Schlissel has announced an initiative that will initially develop 120 students in Southfield and Ypsilanti in a program that could eventually lead to four-year scholarships.

The program, to be known as Wolverine Pathways, will partner with the school districts to increase the number of underrepresented minority and first-generation students at the university. It will select students in the seventh and 10th grades for a year-round program that continues to their completion of 12th grade.

The Wolverine Scholars will participate in fall, winter and summer semesters with tutors and mentors and will include project-based learning models in English, science and math. It will also include service and leadership opportunities, cultural events, test preparation, parents resources and campus visits.

It will begin this January, and, if scholars complete the program and get accepted, students will win a four-year tuition scholarship.

“Earlier this month, Gov. (Rick) Snyder called on universities to work more closely with K-12 districts to help get students ready to attend college,” Schlissel said during a leadership breakfast. “The University of Michigan has a longstanding history of success in it K-12 partnerships.”

The new program comes a few weeks after the university announced that it had enrolled its most diverse incoming class since 2005.

Since taking office in July 2014, Schlissel has focused on a variety of issues, including campus sexual assault, alcohol consumption, turmoil in the athletic department and diversity.

Schlissel has spoken repeatedly about diversity, calling it crucial to UM’s mission and saying he wanted to attract students from a variety of locations, socioeconomic backgrounds and races.

Last week, UM reported its most diverse freshman class in a decade, with underrepresented minorities making up 12.8 percent of the new students. School officials said several factors contributed to the increase in minority enrollment, including a decision to accept fewer early applicants. That gave underrepresented students more time to have their applications considered.

Earlier, Schlissel launched a strategic planning process to find ways to improve campus diversity.

UM has faced scrutiny over its handling of sexual assault complaints, including a federal investigation of one case. In response, Schlissel earlier this year commissioned the school’s first sexual misconduct survey.

Schlissel also has tackled alcohol abuse, calling it one of the biggest challenges facing UM and warning that fraternities and sororities could “wither” unless members curb excessive drinking and other risky behavior.

In August, the school announced it would notify the parents of first-year students who commit a second violation of UM”s policy against drug use and underage drinking.

That followed a January incident in which members of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and Sigma Delta Tau sorority caused an estimated $400,000 in damage to the Treetops ski resort in Gaylord during a weekend of partying. UM later banned the fraternity for at least four years and suspended the sorority for two years.

Schlissel also faced upheaval and financial trouble in UM’s athletic department. A string of mediocre seasons by the football team and high ticket costs led to declining attendance and the ouster last fall of head coach Brady Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon.

The president’s choice for interim athletic director, Jim Hackett, landed sought-after coach Jim Harbaugh to replace Hoke, leading to sellouts at Michigan Stadium and positive national attention for UM football.

Schlissel has said Harbaugh’s arrival is helping mitigate financial pressure on the athletic department, which had a deficit of nearly $8 million this year.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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