This year, Capital University will participate in Foundations of Excellence, a national higher education project that helps colleges and universities study and optimize programs that impact their students’ experience in the first year — the most critical time for influencing whether a student will succeed in college.
Sponsored by the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, the project will use a model of excellence to measure and enhance Capital’s comprehensive approach to educating first-year students.
“Through our work on this project, we will take a focused and sustained look at what we do well and what we can improve,” said Richard M. Ashbrook, provost and vice president for Academic and Student Affairs. “We will enrich student life, help realize our strategic plan, and commit ourselves to providing the best possible experience for new students so they achieve their educational goals.”
Research has long shown that new students who are successfully integrated into college are much more likely to succeed. Many colleges, therefore, work especially hard to create a first-rate experience for new students. Since February 2003, the Foundations of Excellence project has involved more than 300 two- and four-year colleges and universities across the country in developing the standards — Foundational Dimensions — that constitute a model first year.
Working with the Gardner Institute and Educational Benchmarking, Inc., the institute’s technology support and educational survey partner, Capital will measure its effectiveness in recruiting, admitting, orienting, supporting, advising, and teaching new students. This work will inform improvements to programs that will increase student learning, success, and retention.
In describing the importance of this project, John N. Gardner, president of the North Carolina-based Gardner Institute, said, “While much is known about how a campus can improve new student learning and retention, this information has never been synthesized or translated into aspirational standards that are reflective of best practice. The absence of clear standards has powerful educational and financial consequences. This project brings together a number of highly credible researchers, reformers, and practitioners, who are creating the blueprint that for too long has been missing.”
Betsy Barefoot, vice president and senior scholar at the Gardner Institute, added that the standards are not only aspirational, but they can also be used to measure an institution’s current level of excellence in its approach to the first year.
In July, a team from Capital traveled to Asheville, N.C., to attend a launch meeting for the Foundations of Excellence project. The team included:
- Provost Richard Ashbrook
- Cynthia Duncan, director of multicultural affairs
- Amy Adams, associate vice president for enrollment services
- Jody Fournier, assistant dean
- Daniel Weinstein, director of faculty development and assessment
Throughout this academic year, the team — under the leadership of Dr. John Gardner, namesake of the institute and a pioneer and scholar of the American first-year and senior-year reform movements — will implement essential components of the self-study plan, which include:
- a current practices inventory of all existing first-year programs, services and initiatives;
- two campuswide surveys, one for faculty and staff, the other for current first-year students;
- a set of subcommittees, which will evaluate institutional performance in one of nine foundational dimensions;
- a steering committee composed of liaisons, subcommittee chairs, and key administrators; and
- a sophisticated web-based technology platform, to which all project participants will have access.
Based on the findings, the university will implement an action plan in academic year 2013-2014, tailoring new practices, policies and student experiences with the general education curriculum and the First Year Seminar.
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