Increasing Retention and Graduation Rates for Low-Income Engineering Students

Support more students in graduating from the engineering program at the University of Detroit Mercy by offering personal mentorship and the chance to engage with near-peers who have persisted in the program.

MIT D-Lab Class

Entrepreneurship for the Idealist


Detroit, Michigan (US)


MIT students unless otherwise noted.

Rima Das is a PhD candidate in the Ideation Lab, where she studies anything related to the people involved with the design process: sketching and prototyping during the early stages of design, how to design makerspaces to be more equitable, and ways to embed ethics, equity, and justice in design curriculum and research.


Expanding access to undergraduate education for low-income students is a tremendous challenge with three major stages or components. First, getting admitted to a four year institution, second, matriculating to a particular institution once admission has been granted, and third, staying in after starting the degree in order to complete the degree and graduate. My focus will be on the third segment of this process because I see room for accompaniment to play a strong role at that stage.

Planned contribution

My plans for this project stem from reading “The Inequality Machine” by Paul Tough. In this text, Tough outlines many of the interventions that have been tried at the different stages of the process and showcases which work and which fall flat (or even exacerbate the problem). I propose to build on the work done by David Laude at the University of Texas who has managed to get their graduation rate from 52% to 70% using accompaniment based programs.

Specifically, I am interested in building on some of the interventions they have used: messages from upperclassmen about belonging and fear of failure and the University Leadership Network (ULN) which helps students build leadership and personal skills in addition to providing a network of mentors. The University of Detroit Mercy, a Jesuit institution in Detroit that serves many first generation and low income students (33% of students are Pell eligible). I will partner with them to build on existing programs geared towards supporting students and bringing mentorship opportunities into their first year required curriculum.


Manish Bhardwaj, Entrepreneurship for the Idealist Instructor