John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Conferences are Fabulous Contexts for Extroverts Like Me

December 21, 2015adminInsights0

John Gardner copyIt is natural as the calendar year draws to a close that we make an effort to look ahead to the new year and focus on some things we are looking forward to. As a conference junkie—after all, I am the founder of the First-Year Experience conferences about 35 years ago—I still enjoy meeting planning and especially interacting with folks who actually come to the meeting. Conferences are fabulous contexts for extroverts like me. And I am looking forward to two small meetings which I have helped design for early in 2016.

I refer to: 1. JNGI Higher Education Partnership Forum, and 2: JNGI Student Success Seminar: Finding the Best Recipe for Student Success

Both will be offered concurrently in beautiful south Florida, late this January (25-26) near West Palm Beach in Jupiter.

The first is our fourth offering of a process we have been told has been very, very helpful to several hundred campuses that have sent teams to the three previous offerings of this meeting. The big idea here is really simple: you pull together a team of academic and student affairs leaders, definitely including faculty, and come spend a day and a half together to come to terms with each other and hammer out a plan for an initiative you are going to undertake when you get back home. With the ideas we generated in our first convening of this process we created a tool which we will use again this time, our Seven Principles for Good Practice for Student Success Partnerships. Here’s a link for you to use this now:

We offer this meeting out of our conviction that one of the most important things you have to do to increase student success is to create and sustain more partnerships across your campus. This means asking us Americans to do something very difficult for us, namely, collaborate, when in reality far more of us would rather compete. The need for this is more timely than ever given the organizational shifts underway on many campuses resulting in the creation of new units that are being constituted as “Student Success” and which are neither fish nor fowl—academic and/or student affairs.

Our thinking in designing these two meetings was that an institution could identify a small cohort of key change agents and leaders, actual and potential, and divide them into two groups. One group would come and work as a team at the first meeting. The other cohort would attend the second meeting, a comprehensive primer, overview of the most important things to know and understand about this new field of student success. This will be delivered in a highly efficient and productive manner, over a day and a half, but still with plenty of interaction with other folks trying to figure out student success and with the three leaders and facilitators. The latter are my wife, Dr. Betsy Barefoot, our organization’s senior officer for innovation, Dr. Drew Koch, and myself. Surely two out of the three of us could keep you engaged and make you even better informed about student success essential –what we are calling “ingredients”—ingredients for a “secret sauce.” We will also integrate several of the activities so that they will be shared by both cohorts. I think these two parallel and integrated events are going to generate some powerful synergies, ideas, and collegial relationships.

I will look forward to seeing some of my readers there and to learning from them I am sure. Have a good holiday and I wish you a good new year ahead.

What Have I Been Doing Lately? A Posting from Abroad

September 29, 2015adminInsights0

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Five years or so, give or take, one of my much younger colleagues persuaded me, over much resistance, to start writing a blog. This has taken a lot of time and dedication. It is a commitment. And it has competed with many other responsibilities. But I have enjoyed the writing and especially the reflecting that it must be based on. Obviously, to be a blogger you have to have some things you want to say and you have to make yourself do so. And there have to be people that want to and will read what you have to say. I have especially enjoyed the observing and thinking I have done when I get out of my own country and become a reporter from foreign lands, that is admittedly, from the perspective of an US higher education leader. Maintaining a blog takes discipline. And while I think I am a very disciplined professional, there are limits and mine have been largely available time vis a vis my other commitments.

Well I am just returning from several weeks outside the country in Italy and the England, on vacation, with my wife Betsy Barefoot, thank goodness. They lead me to these observations and thoughts.

  1. There is much more of importance going on in the countries I visit than what matters most right now in the U.S. We do receive coverage in the foreign press but we are not the center of the universe. That encourages me to take some things about us less seriously.
  2. The people I talked to are aghast that Donald Trump is garnering the attention he is. And in Britain, there is appropriate attention being paid to the similarities of the rise of Bernie Sanders as a candidate on the left, and Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of Labor. And the pundits are already predicting that his election will drive many more British moderates away from Labor for a more centrist option with the Conservatives. I must be careful about overdrawing similarities in the US and British political systems.
  3. There is more universal admiration for Barack Obama abroad than home.
  4. The majority of people in post industrial, well-developed economies enjoy far greater minimum levels of security than our citizens, in such elementary matters as health care, paid sick leave and vacation. I find them, quite subjectively, to be happier, more content, more focused on their families.
  5. I am amazed at how much vacation time working people, for example, taxi drivers abroad, take compared to our country. They are really serious about their sacred “holidays.” I need to learn from and emulate them in this regard. Americans take less of their authorized time off than any other nationality.
  6. The most ubiquitous symbols of our influence are the US corporate logos and American music. There is no escaping American music anywhere, no matter what the official language.
  7. And after that the most common denominator I see is the hordes of people holding in their hands and using the smartphones made by Apple. Imagine if we could produce something in higher education that everyone not only wanted but absolutely had to have, no matter what their status. Unfortunately, that something is not higher education per se.
  8. My country would be so different if it had a really working train system that our people were committed to using and our government to supporting. I loved my ride in an English passenger train until all lines north and south of London were shut down to investigate and “sort out” a suicide of someone who had jumped in front of a train. I learned that is a preferred choice of suicide method in the UK.
  9. Obesity is much more obvious in my own country than the two I just visited.
  10. There are movies made outside of the US and about people who are not Americans. I learned this experientially by attending with my wife, Betsy Barefoot, the 72nd annual Venice Film Festival, where the majority of films shown and seen by Betsy and me were not made in the US or about Americans. This was made possible for us, by our joining one of the so-called “Times Journeys” marketed by The New York Times. This was a group of US citizens, approximately 25 of us, who purchased the right to be part of this experience, one lead by the senior New York Times film critic, A.O. Scott. It was a peak experience, particularly, to be set in this host city. The Times and its travel company partner, Academic Travel Abroad, will be repeating this opportunity for the September 2016 Venice Film Festival, and also for the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, this coming January 2016. For my readers who enjoy film and are willing to really pay for that experience, I highly recommend these “Journeys.” One of the most pervasive themes in multiple films we saw was the despair of adolescent and young adult, under educated, under or unemployed males, which reminded me of “the male problem” which is so central to the challenges I face in my work with higher education institutions anxious to improve “student success” and retention.
  11. One of the many reasons I have stayed at this work on the so-called “first-year experience” for so long—over four decades, are the attachments I have developed to other academics with whom I initially did some kind of work with, but ultimately became life long friends. Case in point, my wife and I visited what in England is known as “the North” which is the opposite of the American “North.” In England, it is “the South” of the country that has the most wealth and that dominates the government, media, and economic sectors of the country. In a small market village of Guisborough live two retired academics who are two of our most cherished friends. One of them was my partner for a decade or so, starting in 1987, in organizing what the University of South Carolina used to sponsor, our International Conferences on the First-Year Experience. This person is the most competent person in our mutual language of English that I have ever known. He is my very own personal correspondent who reports to me especially on British political news. We are almost weekly e-mail correspondents, and I covet but will never have his writing ability. He keeps encouraging me to retire but I am not heeding his advice.
  12. While in his country, I read about research that is documenting that increasingly Americans are less likely to see and/or meet work colleagues outside of the work environment for social purposes. Now we have other means to both meet people and other reasons for establishing affinity and bonding. I was reminded on this trip that this certainly does not describe me. Most of my closest friends have developed out of my associations within the academy. In many respects then I am not a man of the 21st
  13. And while Britain has its share of the 1% versus all the others and concerns about economic inequality, this country that we used to think so restricted upward social mobility because of its class system, actually has more upward social mobility than our country. In my country, if your parents are not college educated, if you were born into a poor family, if you are African American or Hispanic, it is much more likely you will not improve your status in life, enjoy the rewards of the shrinking American middle class, even for many who do receive a college education. Recent research has shown that both African Americans and Hispanic college graduates were much more likely disrupted and set back by the Great Recession than were other college graduates.

When I was a child, between the ages of 9 and 14, I lived in another country, Canada. I am very thankful I had this experience. It has made me a different person than I would have become had I lived only in one country. It gave me much greater insight into what it meant to be an “American”, particularly the several times I was beat up by other school children because I was an American and they had heard justifiable complaints from their parents about the treatment of Canada by the US government. Foreign travel has also had an impact on my development and sense of my place in our world. This is why it is so important to encourage the same kinds of experiences for our students, no matter what that socio-economic status.

I am glad I just took this trip, and I am glad to be returning “home.” I am proud to be a US citizen, in spite of some of the things we do. I am also a proud “veteran.” But I don’t come home wanting to promote what our right-wing terms American “exceptionalism.” I return home as committed as ever to the work I base here. And my next blog posting will be written from home, not as I return home.

Gardner Institute Names Kristie Pirkey, APR, Director of Marketing and Communications

The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, a national non-profit focused on helping higher education institutions improve student learning, persistence and completion, is pleased to announce the appointment of Kristie Pirkey, APR to the position of Director of Marketing and Communications. Selected after a national search, Ms. Pirkey began her work on January 12, 2015.

“Kristie is a seasoned marketing and communications professional who will greatly enhance the manner in which we disseminate information to former, current and new partners about the most effective ways to boost student learning, retention and completion,” said Drew Koch, the Gardner Institute’s Executive Vice President. “We are thrilled to have her as a part of our team.”

“At the Gardner Institute, we constantly strive to inform institutions about the very best in student success practices,” added John N. Gardner, President of the Gardner Institute. “With the support and expertise of Kristie Pirkey in this newly established role, we know that we will be able to enhance this effort and add to our momentum as a national student success non-profit organization.”

A 15-year non-profit professional specializing in marketing and corporate communications, Pirkey most recently served as Association Director of Public Relations and Communications for the YMCA of San Diego County. At the Y, she was responsible for strategic direction and implementation of the charitable non-profit Association’s marketing, public relations and communications program including media relations, branch support and countywide events.

Prior to her work with the Y and for more than seven years, she served as Director of Corporate Communications with the American Council on Exercise (ACE), an accredited, national non-profit organization dedicated to the education, training and certification of more than 45,000 fitness professionals.

“I am excited to join the John N. Gardner Institute, collaborate with higher education institutions and expand our collective impact,” Pirkey said. “I am passionate about serving mission driven organizations and honored for the opportunity to focus our efforts and build on the incredible reputation of the Institute.”

A native of California, Ms. Pirkey earned a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications from Menlo College in Atherton, CA and her accreditation in Public Relations (APR) from the Public Relations Society of America.

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Enhancing Student Success and Retention Throughout Undergraduate Education: A National Study

October 20, 2010adminEducation0

Survey Development

This survey was developed to gather information on student success initiatives that span the entire undergraduate continuum. Although there are numerous sources for best practices in the first year, no comprehensive data currently exist about the prevalence of success initiatives for sophomores, juniors, seniors, or transfer students and how those efforts are connected with first-year initiatives.

This survey is being sent to all chief academic officers at regionally accredited four-year colleges and universities in the United States. The chief academic officer is generally the individual best positioned to answer broad questions about undergraduate education. However, this survey link can be forwarded to other individuals as appropriate. A similar two-year version of this survey will be developed and administered in the spring of 2011.

The survey was developed by staff members at the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. The survey was then piloted with approximately 20 college and university educators around the United States.

Survey Content

The survey covers seven specific areas:

  • summer bridge programs
  • pre-term orientation
  • success seminars (first year through senior year)
  • learning communities (first year through senior year)
  • early warning systems
  • service learning
  • undergraduate research

The survey does not address other potential areas of interest, such as academic advising or developmental education, because other national associations focus specifically on those areas and provide in-depth resources for higher education researchers and practitioners.

The survey instrument is linked as a PDF document. Please note that most respondents taking the survey online will not see the entire survey. The survey logic presents questions about the specifics of a program/initiative only if a response indicates the institution has that program/initiative.

Survey Results

The results will be shared (on a complimentary basis) in both electronic and print formats. Results will be presented in aggregate and also disaggregated by institutional control (public/private), size, and selectivity. Results will be available in electronic format in early 2011 and in print format later in the year.

How will these data be valuable?

Institutions that are considering expanding their student success initiatives within and beyond the first year will be able to determine how many other peer institutions are offering such programs, specific program characteristics, program outcomes, and whether respondents judge those programs to be cost effective.

Questions about this survey may be directed to Betsy Barefoot, Vice President & Senior Scholar either by e-mail,, or by phone, 828-475-6018.