John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

John N. Gardner Institute Appoints Stephanie M. Foote, Ph.D. as Assistant Vice President for Teaching, Learning, and Evidence-Based Practices

John N. Gardner Institute Appoints Stephanie M. Foote, Ph.D. as Assistant Vice President for Teaching, Learning, and Evidence-Based Practices

BREVARD, NC. (August 2017) – The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, a national nonprofit focused on helping higher education institutions improve teaching, learning, retention, and completion and simultaneously advance equity and social justice, announced the appointment of Dr. Stephanie Foote as Assistant Vice President for Teaching, Learning, and Evidence-Based Practices.

“Dr. Foote’s experience with designing and implementing efforts to enhance teaching, learning, and success make her the ideal person to serve in this role,” commented Dr. Andrew K. Koch, Gardner Institute Chief Operating Officer.

“Her experiences as a teacher and scholar combined with her administrative acumen will help the Institute continue to innovate in its Teaching and Learning Academy and Analytics in Pedagogy and Curriculum efforts,” continued Koch. “She will also be a key leader in the development of additional national projects that will help institutions improve the scale and quality of their high-impact undergraduate education practices.”

“The Institute is fortunate to have someone as skilled as Dr. Foote join our team,” added John N. Gardner, President and Co-Founder of the Gardner Institute. “She has been a valued collaborator for nearly two decades, and we are thrilled to be able to now call her a member of the Institute’s staff.”

Prior to joining the Gardner Institute, Dr. Foote was the founding director of the Master of Science in First-Year Studies, professor of education in the Department of First-Year and Transition Studies, and faculty fellow for High-Impact Practices at Kennesaw State University (KSU). Before joining the faculty at KSU, she served as the founding Director of the Academic Success Center and First-Year Experience at the University of South Carolina Aiken, and was the Associate Director for Student Orientation and Family Programs at Stony Brook University.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the exemplary work of the Gardner Institute, and specifically, to help advance the existing efforts and to create new initiatives aimed at supporting teaching, learning, and evidence-based practices,” contributed Dr. Foote.

Dr. Foote, a recipient of the McGraw-Hill Excellence in Teaching First-Year Seminars award and a past recipient of the NODA Outstanding Research Award, earned her Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in Educational Administration-Higher Education and has served as a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) Lead Evaluator for several institutions during their reaffirmation process through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS-COC). She has participated in the Foundations of Excellence Process for both first-year and transfer students. Dr. Foote is also a member of the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition National Advisory Board. She began her work at the Gardner Institute on August 1, 2017.


For More Information, contact:

Julie Heller

Marketing and Communications Director

John N. Gardner Institute


About the John N. Gardner Institute

The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to partnering with colleges, universities, philanthropic organizations, educators, and other entities to increase institutional responsibility for improving outcomes associated with teaching, learning, retention, and completion. Through its efforts the Institute strives to advance higher education’s larger goal of achieving equity and social justice. Specific focus is given to helping institutions develop and implement strategic action plans for first-year, second-year and/or transfer student success; improving teaching, learning and success in gateway courses; and conducting professional development focused on advancing educational excellence. For more information, visit




UHD Honored with UHS Board of Regents Academic Excellence Award for Faculty Work on Improving Student Success in Gateway Courses

UHD Honored with UHS Board of Regents Academic Excellence Award for Faculty Work on Improving Student Success in Gateway Courses

Undergraduate success in higher education is often dependent on a student’s performance in gateway courses – or those required entry-level classes that provide the academic foundations for selected majors.

Recognizing the importance of gateway courses to students’ long-term academic success, faculty at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) began efforts to improve student performance in these courses nearly two decades ago. This multiyear initiative has addressed numerous gateway courses on campus and is yielding positive results. The ongoing efforts in recent years have been housed in the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE) as part of a program called the Course Innovation Initiative (CI2).

For its efforts in helping students succeed in these necessary classes, UHD was awarded the University of Houston-System Board of Regents Academic Excellence Award. UHD was formally recognized with this honor during the Board’s May 18 meeting on the University of Houston campus.

“This award is a validation of UHD’s commitment to its students,” said UHD President Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz. “Success in gateway courses is essential to a student’s progression in a university setting. Too often, those who transition from high school to an institution of higher learning are challenged by a new academic standard and new ways of learning. Our faculty and staff have worked diligently to help students overcome these challenges and stay on the right path toward finishing UHD strong.”

Examples of strategies used by faculty in gateway courses include:

  • Reading guides or interactive online video lectures that help students prepare prior to attending class.
  • Team environments in which students collaborate with each other and supplemental instruction leaders (peer tutors).
  • Classroom problem solving activities.

Improved student engagement and learning was the primary goal of course redesign efforts. This was measured in a variety of ways, but is reflected most prominently by the percentage of students earning a C or better in selected courses. At the conclusion of the fall 2016 semester, students’ grades in gateway courses had improved significantly.

Some of the most marked improvements included scores in College Algebra with 64 percent of students earning A’s, B’s or C’s. Previously, 42 percent earned a C or better in this course.

Another leap was made in General Biology. By the conclusion of fall 2016, 65 percent of students earned A’s, B’s or C’s. Prior to that semester, 38 percent of students scored a C or higher.


Additional program outcomes are detailed in this chart:

Course Name 2016/17 Enrollment Baseline % ABC Current % ABC
English Composition I 1050 54 74
English Composition II 1044 56 69
Integrated Reading & Writing 213 70 83
US History I 1294 52 71
College Algebra 1120 42 64
College Math for Liberal Arts 246 53 65
Beginning Algebra 77 54 70
Intermediate Algebra 251 49 66
General Biology I 390 38 65
General Chemistry I 385 44 56
Federal Government 1145 59 75


These impressive academic results have helped students overcome trepidations regarding the leap from high school classrooms to university learning spaces. Faculty confidence also was bolstered as professors collaborated together on course design strategies and observed positive outcomes in the classroom.

“I began seeing a level of engagement I had never seen before in any of my other classes,” said Dr. Lisa Morano, professor of biology and microbiology. “I began to realize that influence from peers was an incredibly motivating factor for students.”

Faculty efforts to improve student success in gateway courses through the support of the CTLE are complemented by other initiatives aimed at supporting First Time in College students (FITCs). These include Supplemental Instruction, freshman seminar courses, Gator Gateway, an expanded orientation program for freshmen, faculty mentoring, and Gator Ready, which is aimed at simplifying the registration process for FTICs.

A video titled Active Learning and Gateway Courses was created to document faculty and staff efforts to improve student learning in gateway courses at UHD. The video, featuring faculty and student testimonials, can be viewed here.


About The University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD)—the second largest university in Houston—has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. UHD is one of four distinct public universities within the University of Houston System. As a comprehensive four-year university, UHD —led by Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz —offers 44 bachelor’s and eight master’s degree programs within five colleges (Business; Humanities and Social Science; Public Service, Sciences and Technology; and University College). Annually, UHD educates more than 14,000 students; boasts over 44,000 alumni and is noted nationally as both a Hispanic-Serving Institution and a Minority-Serving Institution. For more on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit

Six Colleges and Universities Join John N. Gardner Institute’s Inaugural Small Enrollment Institution Retention Consortium Cohort to Improve Student Success and Retention Rates


Six Colleges and Universities Join John N. Gardner Institute’s Inaugural Small Enrollment Institution Retention Consortium Cohort to Improve Student Success and Retention Rates 

BREVARD, NC. (January 27, 2017) – The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education (JNGI), a national leader in helping colleges and universities improve student success, is pleased to announce the six smaller enrollment institutions that have been selected as JNGI’s inaugural Small Enrollment Institution Retention Consortium.

Drawing on JNGI’s established Retention Performance Management process, the Small Enrollment Institution Retention Consortium will help these six institutions create and then implement strategic retention improvement plans focused on specific cohorts such as first-year, second-year, first-generation and low-income students. The work commenced in November 2016 and will occur over the next two academic years. It will include institution-specific efforts as well as sharing across a broader small enrollment institution community of practice.

The following institutions join the more than 300 that have worked with JNGI to build and implement a comprehensive strategic action plan to yield a new vision for enhanced learning and retention.

  • Blackburn College
  • Catawba College
  • Coker College
  • Frank Phillips College
  • Kent State University
  • Western Nevada College

“The Small Enrollment Institution Retention Consortium is designed to help these six institutions and others like them keep more of the students they admit – an outcome critical to fulfilling institutional mission and maintaining financial wellbeing,” said Drew Koch, Chief Operating Officer, John N. Gardner Institute. “Both the institution specific plan generation and implementation process and the broader cross-institution community of practice are focused on shared decision-making that leads to making informed, data-based decisions about strategic retention and completion efforts. The shared decisions and actions have the power to transform the institution and the students they serve.”

“This collaborative can be extremely transformational for our institutions and their students,” said John N. Gardner, President, John N. Gardner Institute. “We are proud to partner with these strategically-minded organizations in assessing and planning for excellence in their entire undergraduate experience.”

JNGI’s proven student learning, success, retention and completion processes have been used by hundreds of institutions – including entire systems and/or districts – to improve the first-year and/or transfer experience.

The Gardner Institute is currently accepting applications from colleges and/or universities interested in joining the other JNGI cohorts. For more information, visit


For more information:

Julie Heller

Director, Marketing and Communications

John N. Gardner Institute 314-602-2785

About the John N. Gardner Institute

The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to partnering with colleges, universities, philanthropic organizations, educators, and other entities to increase institutional responsibility for improving outcomes associated with teaching, learning, retention, and completion. Through its efforts the Institute will strive to advance higher education’s larger goal of achieving equity and social justice.


Eight Michigan Public Postsecondary Institutions Partner with the John N. Gardner Institute to Improve Student Outcomes in High-Risk Courses

October 11, 2016

Eight Michigan Public Postsecondary Institutions Partner with the John N. Gardner Institute to Improve Student Outcomes in High-Risk Courses

Brevard, North Carolina – The nonprofit John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education (JNGI) is pleased to announce that eight Michigan postsecondary institutions will participate in the three-year Michigan Gateways to Completion (Michigan G2C) project.

Participating institutions include Eastern Michigan University, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Lansing Community College, Oakland University, University of Michigan – Dearborn, Washtenaw Community College, Wayne State University and Western Michigan University.

Michigan G2C will help the institutions’ faculty create and implement evidence-based plans to continuously improve teaching, learning and outcomes in courses with historically high rates of failure, sometimes called “gateway courses.” Gateway courses are often big survey courses (Biology 101, Intro to Psychology, etc.) that all students must take as they begin a desired major. Failure in these courses in directly tied to lack of degree completion – especially for low-income and first-generation students and students from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

And failure is too common, especially for minority students. G2C pilot data from 13 institutions show that on average 43.4% of all students enrolled in Introductory Accounting received a D or worse. For African-American students, nearly two-thirds received a D, F, W (withdrawal) or I (incomplete), and for Latino students, the number was nearly three-fourths.

“We know that research supports that the kinds of assessment, active learning and in-class and out-of-class strategies that are a part of G2C are directly connected to improvements in retention and graduation rates,” stated Drew Koch, JNGI Chief Operation Officer. “This is especially true for historically underserved and underrepresented students. So this project is equally about advancing social justice as it is about improving teaching, learning and success.”

Made possible with grant support from The Kresge Foundation, the project is based on JNGI’s Gateways to Completion® process.  Launched in 2013, G2C is being used by more than 40 colleges and universities in the United States to help faculty and staff make meaningful and measurable changes in the ways that they facilitate teaching, learning and success.

Through this initiative, each participating institution will rework at least two of its gateway courses, which a potential of reaching up to 23,500 students each year after implementation.

“It has become quite obvious that success in gateway courses is critical to a student’s ability to continue progressing in their chosen major,” stated James Lentini, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at Oakland University. “The G2C initiative will allow us to find solutions that go beyond the notion that students must simply be better prepared. It is showing us that instructional delivery methods can be thoughtfully retooled to achieve both teaching goals for instructors and successful learning outcomes for students.”

“Despite a deep and genuine commitment to student success, and many successes to which we can legitimately and proudly point, far too many of our students— and, especially, far too many of our most vulnerable students—fail to complete their educational goals,” added Richard J. Prystowsky, Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs at Lansing Community College. “It is unconscionable for us to allow this to continue. Fortunately, the Michigan G2C initiative will enable colleges and universities in the state to ameliorate this problem in substantial ways in many of the courses that students take when they first come to college.”

Michigan is a focus state for Kresge’s Education program, and Michigan G2C will be connected with other postsecondary projects underway in the state that receive Kresge support, including the Michigan Guided Pathways Institute and the Institutional Learning Communities initiative involving institutions from the Michigan Association of State Universities.

More than 80 faculty and staff from the eight participating Michigan G2C institutions recently came together for the daylong Michigan G2C Launch Meeting hosted by Lansing Community College. Future project meetings will be hosted by the two-year and four year institutions participating in the effort.

“The gateway course experience is, regrettably, an under-analyzed and under-addressed aspect of college success,” said John N. Gardner, JNGI’s President. “During my more than four decades of work with the student movement in the United States, I have seen thousands of institutions implement all kinds of programs to help first-year students, but very few have given attention to gateway courses. This is where the ‘real first-year experience’ occurs. It is the most important work that we can be doing right now.”

“A unique aspect of this project is how it will unite both two-year and four-year institutions to address a common issue,” said William Moses, Kresge’s managing director for the Education Program. “Often, these institutions compete for students and limited resources. In the Michigan G2C effort, they will collaborate to find evidence-based approaches to improving gateway courses, so more Michigan students will keep on track to graduate.”

The project will last through the 2018-19 academic year. The first year of the effort will be focused on helping faculty and staff gather and analyze evidence to create course transformation plans. The redesigned courses will be taught and refined in the second and third years of the project.

For more information, contact:

Dr. Andrew K. Koch                                                  Krista Jahnke
Chief Operating Officer                                             Communications Officer
John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence                  The Kresge Foundation
in Undergraduate Education                            / 248-643-9630 / 828-877-3549



About the John N. Gardner Institute
The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education is a national non-profit focused on partnering with higher education institutions, individual educators, and other entities to improve teaching, learning, persistence and completion. The Institute helps higher education and related organizations to individually and/or collectively define or redefine excellence in undergraduate education – especially in the first and second years of college, the transfer experience, and in gateway courses. For more information, visit

About the Kresge Foundation
The Kresge Foundation is a $3.6 billion private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grantmaking and social investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development in Detroit. In 2015, the Board of Trustees approved 371 grants totaling $125.2 million, and nine social investment commitments totaling $20.3 million. For more information, visit



Over 80 faculty and staff from the eight Michigan G2C Institutions joined staff from the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education and Kresge Foundation for the Michigan G2C project launch meeting at Lansing Community College on September 28, 2016.

WATCH: University of Central Florida takes Transfer Student Success to the Next Level with JNGI Foundations of Excellence(R)

WATCH: @UCF takes transfer student success to the next level with @jnginstitute Foundations of Excellence. Together we are working to help create and subsequently implement an evidence-based plan to improve student retention and completion for thousands of transfer students.

John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education Statement on and Actions Taken in Response to North Carolina House Bill 2

The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education (JNGI), a North Carolina based non-profit corporation, offers the following statement in response to the adoption of North Carolina House Bill 2.

The staff of JNGI wants it known that while we will continue to obey all State of North Carolina statutes and policies and those of the United States government as they may pertain to the operation of our legally constituted non-profit corporation, we believe:

  • The provisions of North Carolina House Bill 2 violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment and, in so doing, conflict with the fundamental values of our organization.
  • These values include promoting social justice and equal treatment and rights for all undergraduate college students and those who serve them regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, physical condition, religion, creed, nationality, immigration status, sexual orientation and/or identity.

Legally binding contracts finalized by the Institute well before the proposal and enactment of House Bill 2 prevent JNGI from moving four (4) upcoming professional meetings from Asheville, North Carolina during 2016.

However, JNGI will neither plan nor conduct any future professional events in North Carolina until the House Bill 2 is either rescinded by the North Carolina Legislature or invalidated by the Federal Courts.

In addition, we have moved all future events from North Carolina that could be altered without violating the terms of binding contracts. These events include the upcoming annual, in-person legally required meeting of our Board of Directors, as well as a retreat for JNGI senior staff advisors.

We understand and respect the fact that some of our higher education colleagues are barred from using institutional and/or public monies to travel to North Carolina in an official state or city employment capacity because of this legislation.

While we are not responsible for this legislative action, we profoundly regret its enactment. We believe that the majority of our fellow North Carolinians share our belief that this and any form of discrimination is an inappropriate moral affront to human dignity.

We implore you, the supporters of our work, to bear with us as we do our best under these circumstances, and we ask you to continue to grant us your respect and support.

The Staff of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Brevard, North Carolina

April 21, 2016

Ten University System of Georgia Institutions Launch Work in JNGI’S Gateway to Completion® Process to Improve Student Learning and Success in Historically High-Failure Rate Courses

BREVARD, NC. (June 6, 2016) – Student success in lower division and/or developmental-level “gateway” courses – such as accounting, biology, chemistry, history, math, psychology and writing/English – is a direct predictor of whether a student will be retained at a particular institution and/or complete a degree at any institution all together. This is why improving teaching and learning in gateway courses is one of the most pressing actions necessary in higher education today.

As a national non-profit leader in helping colleges and universities increase student learning and success, the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education (JNGI) is proud to announce that the University System of Georgia (USG) has elected to address gateway course performance issues by working with JNGI’s Gateways to Completion (G2C) process

G2C is designed to provide institutions – most notably faculty – with processes, pedagogical and curricular guidance, and analytics tools to redesign teaching, learning and success in the gateway courses they teach.

Ten of the 29 USG public institutions of higher learning recently launched their efforts in JNGI’s three-year G2C process. This means that faculty in over a third of the institutions in one of the nation’s largest university systems are being mobilized to address failure in gateway courses and the persistence issues associated therewith.

“The University System of Georgia’s effort is the first-of-a-kind, system-wide application of the G2C process,” said Houston Davis, USG chief academic officer and executive vice chancellor. “This undertaking reflects the deep commitment the USG institutions and their faculties have for improving student learning and success. We are happy to work with a proven partner like the Gardner Institute.”

The following USG institutions join 20 other institutions currently involved in the G2C process:

  • East Georgia State College
  • Georgia Highlands College
  • Georgia Southern University
  • Georgia Southwestern State University
  • Gordon State College
  • Middle Georgia State University
  • Kennesaw State University
  • South Georgia State College
  • University of West Georgia
  • Valdosta State University

“The University System of Georgia’s effort is the first-of-a-kind, system-wide application of the G2C process,” said Drew Koch, Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Leadership & Innovation Officer, John N. Gardner Institute. “This is a bold and ambitious undertaking, and it reflects the deep commitment that the USG institutions and their faculties have for improving student learning and success.”

“Our work with G2C to date shows that failure in these courses is not a hallmark of rigor or excellence,” added Koch. “Far too often, low-income and historically underrepresented students constitute the bulk of those who fail these courses. Higher education institutions cannot fulfill their mission to the communities they serve if they leave this issue unchecked.”

“We applaud USG for their leadership in and involvement with the G2C effort,” said John N. Gardner, President, John N. Gardner Institute. “They recognize that they cannot leave teaching and learning to chance, and they are getting their faculty involved in completion agenda-related work in meaningful and appropriate ways. We hope that other postsecondary systems and districts across the nation emulate the USG example and systematically address teaching and learning in their gateway courses.”

JNGI is currently accepting applications from individual institutions and/or systems interested in joining the next G2C cohort. For more information, visit

USG Continues Commitment to Student Success and Completion Through Gardner Institute Partnership

Ten University System of Georgia (USG) institutions recently launched an effort with The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education (JNGI) three-year Gateway to Completion (G2C) process to improve teaching and learning in gateway courses.

Freshman and sophomore year courses and/or developmental-level “gateway” courses include accounting, biology, chemistry, history, math, psychology and writing/English. Success in these courses can be a direct predictor of student progression and completion.

“The University System of Georgia’s effort is the first-of-a-kind, system-wide application of the G2C process,” said Houston Davis, USG chief academic officer and executive vice chancellor. “This undertaking reflects the deep commitment the USG institutions and their faculties have for improving student learning and success. We are happy to work with a proven partner like the Gardner Institute.”

G2C is designed to provide institutions – more specifically, faculty – with processes, instructional and curricular guidance, and analytics tools to redesign teaching, learning and success in gateway courses. Faculty will address failure in gateway courses and the challenges associated with passing those courses.

“We applaud USG for their leadership in and involvement with the G2C effort,” said John N. Gardner, president, John N. Gardner Institute. “They recognize that they cannot leave teaching and learning to chance, and they are getting their faculty involved in completion agenda-related work in meaningful and appropriate ways. We hope that other postsecondary systems and districts across the nation emulate the USG example and systematically address teaching and learning in their gateway courses.”

The ten USG institutions participating in the three-year process are: East Georgia State College, Georgia Highlands State College, Georgia Southern University, Georgia Southwestern State University, Gordon State College, Kennesaw State University, Middle Georgia State University, South Georgia State College, University of West Georgia and Valdosta State University.


On Providing Learning Support for the Students You Actually Have

Appeared in the The Chronicle of Higher Education, MARCH 28, 2016
On Providing Learning Support for the Students You Actually Have
By John N. Gardner

I was quoted in a recent commentary in The Chronicle by Ashley Thorne, and while the quote was accurate, it was used to describe a point of view that I definitely do not hold. In the name of many thousands of faculty, staff, and administrators who dedicate themselves to what has become known as “student success” or “college success” work, I must disavow this point of view inaccurately attributed to me.

The essay was titled “Students Will Rise When Colleges Challenge Them to Read Good Books,” and I agree that this is one component of the beginning college experience that can contribute to student success. But it is just one of many necessary components. The real issue is what constitutes “good books” — titles being advocated by the National Association of Scholars, of which Thorne is executive director, or those selected by campus committees overseeing many “common reading” or “summer reading” programs.

Thorne quoted me as follows: “Plan for the students you actually have, not those you wish you had, or think you used to have, or think you used to be like.” I did make that statement in a presentation at a recent national conference on the first-year experience. And I stand by it.

Before the essay’s publication, Thorne extended to me the professional courtesy of attempting to confirm the quote in question. I provided her not only with the precise wording of what I had said, but also with the context for my statement, as follows: “Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the quote alone lacks the context for the statement. To be sure, I was not saying we shouldn’t aspire to have better students. I was speaking to the reality of the current demographics of U.S. higher education and the fact that many institutions do not align their policies and practices to the students they actually have — and that in turn leads to higher failure and attrition rates.” Thorne chose to ignore that context.

She went on to interpret my comments by writing, “In other words, be realistic; don’t expect too much of students.” I did not make or imply that statement, and it in no way represents my opinion. I do not know any serious academic or college-success professional today who would argue that we should expect little of students. To the contrary, the entire first-year-experience movement, of which I am a founder, and many other powerful undergraduate-reform initiatives have been focused on raising expectations for college students and institutions.

Most students attending colleges today are not those for whom American higher education was originally designed. I firmly believe that there is a direct correlation between what we expect of our students and what we get. We know that higher expectations generate greater learning. But we also know that higher expectations alone are not sufficient. Greater learning also results from support — support that can be provided, for example, by college-success courses in which common readings are often used.
Thorne argues that those of us responsible for the first year, especially those of us who select common readings, choose to “dumb down reading lists” and have a prevailing attitude of “resignation and low expectations.” As one who has spent nearly 50 years working with colleagues from hundreds of institutions, that is not my experience.

Ashley Thorne and I would probably agree on more than we disagree. I respect her calling for higher standards. I respect her pursuit of what she would regard as “excellence” in undergraduate education. We both want “better” students.

But, she argues, “the choices colleges make drip with condescension.” The colleges I see, in contrast, are significantly ramping up their offering of “high-impact practices,” out of both respect and concern for their students. They do not condescend; they admire the students’ courage, motivation, resilience, and drive to overcome enormous obstacles that privileged white men like me never had to encounter.

Most students attending colleges today are not those for whom American higher education was originally designed, and the first-year-experience movement has been working to adapt our colleges to the students they actually have. We believe and we see that students can and do become “better” when we provide them with “challenge and support,” to use the phrase of the 1960s-era psychologist Nevitt Sanford.

Where I think many first-year educators disagree with the National Association of Scholars is not the importance of challenge but the importance and extent of support given students whose levels of preparation provided by America’s public schools are unequal and inadequate. And, admittedly, we also disagree about what we would have our students read and think about. A college degree is needed more than ever for upward social mobility and for the opportunity to appreciate the kinds of “good” books that Thorne argues we should be providing.

Colleges are microcosms of our larger society; thus, academics represent different belief systems about what constitutes good books, good standards, and good practices. I know that if the work on increased success for all students is to have even greater impact, we need all points of view in our tent. I need to consider the views of the National Association of Scholars and how those views might help make students more successful.

I and thousands of other college-success advocates have strived to put together partnerships with colleagues from all points of view in the academy. We must all work together to address the enormous challenges of helping students “rise.” So I hope we we can join together to seek common ground instead of impugning the standards and belief systems of our colleagues.

John N. Gardner is president of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education and a distinguished professor emeritus and senior fellow at the University of South Carolina’s National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

Association of American Colleges & Universities: Peer Review


Like other community colleges, Lansing Community College (LCC) has experienced many challenges in its efforts to increase completion rates for students pursuing credentials and degrees. In its good-faith efforts to address these challenges, LCC has learned that piecemeal, isolated approaches, though helpful in many ways, will not ameliorate the larger, systemic problems that prevent the maximizing of student success.

With this understanding in mind, LCC has enthusiastically embarked on a bold, comprehensive, culture-changing initiative aimed at ensuring success for all students wishing to obtain certificates and degrees or transfer to a four-year school. Entitled “Operation 100%: Achieving Excellence in Student Learning and Success at Lansing Community College,” this initiative sets as its goal 100 percent completion for students in degree, certificate, or transfer pathways. Central to the successful implementation of Operation 100% is an understanding that its goal is more an attitude than a measure, more a commitment to expected institutional behavior supporting student learning and success than an aim for perfection. To this end, we have initiated many new measures and processes to advance our own internal work as well as our work with both a state-based and a national student success pilot program.

Instituting New Campus Student Success Measures 

Operation 100% involves several major redesigns. For example, understanding the crucial importance of advising to the completion agenda, and recognizing the often burdensome caseloads for advisors, LCC is in the process of automating its registration system to ensure that students stay on track in their programs and that automated, real-time alerts are provided to faculty and advisors when students experience difficulty. This automation will enable advisors to have regular contact with students during the semester so that they can offer students just-in-time, personalized, ongoing, high-level support that will help ensure that students either remain on track and receive immediate, relevant intervention when necessary or change tracks appropriately.

To help ensure college readiness, LCC is developing advising protocols for connecting advisors with students before the students enter the college. In addition, the college has radically redesigned its application for prospective students; the new application is populated with predictive analytic questions aimed at helping the college understand from the start a student’s strengths and challenges prior to the student’s beginning to take classes. LCC is also undertaking a major overhaul of its intake, orientation, and student support processes (orientations will be ongoing, and support will be provided to students even prior to their taking classes). By the end of the 2015–2016 academic year, all new students will have education plans, that will be regularly reviewed and updated and that will both contain realistic timeframes for completion and establish the criteria for accurate tracking of student progress. Given the importance of support networks to a student’s success, LCC is also creating a model for support teams that will include peers, mentors, faculty, advisors, and when appropriate, family and community members.

Space does not permit a full accounting of all Operation 100% major projects (such as, for example, the redesign of the college’s website, the increased use of contextualized instruction within programs and within linked and team-taught course sections, and the redesign of general education into a nondistributive, integrated learning model). Nevertheless, as promising as all of these initiatives are, LCC has realized two essential undertakings pertaining to the success of Operation 100%. First, because many students—especially those from historically underrepresented groups or those with otherwise underprivileged backgrounds—struggle to succeed in gateway courses, LCC has committed to ensuring tha tall students succeed in these courses. Second, the college recognizes that, per the seemingly popular notion, students “do not do options well.” However, rather than blame the victim by holding the student responsible for not understanding how to navigate our often mystifying paths to completion, LCC has committed to offering students only well-conceived, highly structured academic programs containing only those options that will lead to student success.

Engaging with Partners for Student Success

To these ends, LCC is engaged in two major pilots, one national and one statewide. In its ongoing effort to ameliorate the completion impediment caused by high rates of attrition in gateway courses, LCC is among a handful of colleges participating in the Gateways to Completion (G2C) national pilot project undertaken by the nonprofit John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education (the Gardner Institute). LCC was the first community college accepted to participate in the G2C pilot and is one of only three community colleges in the nation taking part in the Gardner Institute’s inaugural cohort of thirteen G2C institutions. Similarly, as part of its ongoing work to construct guided program pathways for all of its academic programs, LCC is among the first cohort of twelve community colleges in Michigan to participate in the Michigan Center for Student Success’ statewide “Michigan Guided Pathways Institute.”

Gateways to Completion

The G2C program is a comprehensive course transformation pilot process that mobilizes institutions—particularly faculty at the institutions—to substantially improve student learning and success in historically challenging gateway courses. The Gardner Institute launched G2C in response to lessons learned from its previous work, as well as from national research that correlates lack of success in gateway courses with higher attrition and lower completion rates (Adelman 2006).

For purposes of the G2C effort, the Gardner Institute has defined gateway courses as credit-bearing and/or remedial education courses that have both high rates of failure (as measured by rates of D [drop], F [fail], W [withdraw], and I [incomplete] grades—DFWI rates) and high enrollment within or across sections. Developmental education courses are included in this definition because, in effect, they serve as gateways to the gateway courses.

The G2C process takes into account various forms of instruction—face-to-face, blended, and online. The process also provides analytics tools that allow institutions to collect and analyze historic DFWI rate data, and predictive analytics tools that allow faculty to intervene with at-risk students currently enrolled in their courses. In addition, G2C provides a teaching and learning academy that helps deepen faculty knowledge and increases application of engaging pedagogies in gateway courses—pedagogies that are associated with increased student learning and success (Freeman et al. 2014).

The thirteen pilot institutions involved in G2C are already reporting positive student and institutional-level outcomes, including

  • increases in first- to second-term retention rates;
  • decreases in numbers of students in poor academic standing;
  • increases in A, B, and C grades;
  • decreases in D, F, W, and I grades;
  • lower course repetition rates; and
  • higher performance in the next course in the sequence.

LCC’s experiences with G2C have yielded comparable results.

After holistically and carefully examining the college’s top high-enrollment, high-DWFI courses, LCC elected to transform five courses as part of the three-year G2C process. These five courses are key to popular majors or are key transfer courses that touch many other disciplines. The selection process was thorough, involving collaborative, cross-functional efforts by, among others, faculty from many disciplines, divisional administrative leaders, and persons working in the college’s Center for Data Science. All of these efforts were guided by the G2C Steering Committee, and the project, initiated by faculty, has been faculty-led from the start.

The five selected courses are Principles of Accounting I, Biological Foundation for Physiology, US History: 1877 to Present, Intermediate Algebra, and Composition I. To date, four of the five courses have seen overall decreases in DFWI, and several courses have seen some decreases in DFWI rates among students of color. Faculty have used the G2C process and concomitant analyses of data to engage in important revisions of course learning outcomes (for example, Composition I faculty developed information literacy and collaboration and discussion learning outcomes for the course); faculty have begun having “Promising Practices” meetings to facilitate information sharing; in their regular department meetings, faculty have now begun sharing information about high-impact practices; faculty have been engaged in cross-disciplinary aligning of learning outcomes; both teaching and non-teaching faculty have worked to increase access to tutoring and supplemental instruction; and so on. In short, the G2C initiative has been transformative for the college, allowing faculty to engage in exciting, data-informed course revision marked by engaged, cross-divisional collaboration. It is now commonplace at the college for faculty to discuss both why the college needs to and how it can most effectively implement or augment student-learning-focused continuous improvement efforts.

Considered a leader among leaders in the national G2C work, LCC has presented at various regional and national meetings, including discipline-specific meetings (in accounting and history). Entering the third year of the pilot, LCC is focusing its G2C work on achieving even greater success for students taking the five chosen gateway courses and on applying G2C-developed best practices to strengthen other courses at the college. In addition, because the G2C work has resulted in data-informed best practices, the college is integrating this work into the program-level work undertaken in the Guided Program Pathways initiative (see below). Important correlations discovered in measuring student success—for example, that students who successfully completed Composition I succeeded in US History: 1877 to Present at a higher rate than did students who did not take Composition I first—have yielded valuable information that is being used as faculty construct course sequences in Guided Program Pathways. And, since both the G2C and the Guided Program Pathways projects involve many faculty (including many of the same faculty), the integrated work for these two projects approaches an ideal level of collaboration and seamlessness.

Guided Program Pathways

As key as gateway or other individual courses are to a student’s successfully completing a degree or certificate or transferring successfully to a four-year school, ultimately, completion and transfer goals are best met when the student follows a well-conceived, well-designed, carefully constructed program of study that contains only relevant courses, a high degree of integrated learning, and clear pathways through these experiences. LCC’s Guided Program Pathways project, a key part of Operation 100%, is being implemented in collaboration with the Michigan Guided Pathways Institute (GPI).

GPI, funded by The Kresge Foundation, is a three-year initiative of the Michigan Center for Student Success (MCSS) to build awareness of and capacity for guided pathways among Michigan’s twenty-eight community colleges. With evidence increasingly pointing to structural problems at institutions as a fundamental contributor to the low completion rates, the overwhelming number of programmatic choices, coupled with poorly aligned support systems, presents significant challenges to students as they attempt to get on (and stay on) a clear path toward a credential. Leveraging the pioneering work of several national initiatives that have sought to tackle these institution-wide structural issues, GPI is designed to create a sustained community of practice among participating colleges, with substantial technical assistance from leading experts at the Community College Research Center, Jobs for the Future, the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement, and Public Agenda.

To be a part of a GPI cohort, colleges must commit to fully and actively participate in a series of in-person and virtual convenings; to identify a GPI lead (or co-leads) who will be supported to ensure that the project remains on track; and to designate a cross-functional steering team including representatives from faculty, advisors, academic and student services administrators, and other stakeholders as needed.

Institutions begin their participation with GPI by mapping programs, defining default course sequences, and prescribing appropriate general education and elective options. They will complete this process for all of their campus programs in broad strokes, proceeding to more detailed scenarios, including sequences for full- and part-time students and the incorporation of developmental instruction where required. The expectation for the first cohort of colleges (including LCC) is to have implemented guided pathways and make them available for new students registering in fall 2016. Each pathway will include the following design principles, which are adapted from Davis Jenkins’ work at the Community College Research Center:

  • clearly specified further education and employment goals for every program;
  • a full-program curriculum map with a default semester-by-semester sequence of courses to complete the program;
  • exploratory or “meta-majors” to help entering students choose a program of study;
  • identification of critical courses and other milestones students are expected to attain in each semester;
  • program learning outcomes aligned with the requirements for success in further education and employment, with necessary assessment strategies in place;
  • policies for intentional advising at intake to assist students in selecting a program; and
  • policies and procedures to provide timely feedback to students when they meet benchmarks or get “off track” in their selected program.

Once an initial pathways “system” is implemented, the first cohort of colleges are expected to continue to refine and sustain their efforts and to commit to sharing data and lessons learned with other Michigan colleges and with MCSS.

The first group of LCC academic programs to be created within a Guided Program Pathways model includes the electrical technology program and the fashion technology program, which will serve as guided program pathway models for programs in the college’s Technical Careers Division, and most of the programs from the college’s Health and Human Services Division (for example, child development, surgical technology, and diagnostic medical sonography), which are already fairly well structured. The college will continue developing Guided Program Pathways throughout the 2015–2016 academic year, and both students and advisors will use Ellucian’s “Degree Works” to ensure that students remain on track in their Guided Program Pathways.

A faculty member coordinates both the college’s Guided Program Pathways project and the work of the project’s steering committee. The steering committee, in turn, has established eight work groups, each of which is charged with making recommendations for best practices in creating the following key components of all program pathways: program mapping; career communities (e.g., exploratory, meta-majors); accurate tracking of students’ progress and timely support for students; predictable semester- and program-level schedules; contextualized instruction opportunities; bridges to college for high school students and adult learners; seamless transfer opportunities; and dual admission/guaranteed transfer agreement opportunities for students wishing to pursue baccalaureate degrees.

A set of key principles underlies and guides the work of the Guided Program Pathways project: (1) pathways will be developed and reviewed with a focus on quality assurance and transfer/career relevance; (2) students will not need permission to register for a course along the path but will need to consult with an advisor if they wish to register for a course not on the path or if they are having trouble staying on track; (3) career communities will be created so that students can explore more general areas of study without losing time or taking unnecessary courses; (4) all courses within a career community will also be on the specific program pathway (in that community) that a student eventually chooses to follow; (5) to the extent possible, required math and writing courses will be program-specific, and general education courses will align with technical coursework; and (6) faculty will continue to develop ways to minimize students’ time in so-called developmental education courses without also compromising these students’ chances of succeeding in their college-level courses.

Throughout its history, LCC has engaged in many important endeavors to help students succeed. Our work with the Guided Program Pathways project has already proved to be one of the most significant initiatives ever undertaken by the college. A strongly collaborative effort, it involves the active participation of faculty and staff from across the college. Most important, time and again students have vocally expressed their gratitude that the college is involved in this work and their wish that the pathways were already in place.


The completion problem nationally is both urgent and demanding. It calls for nothing short of bold, culture-changing solutions. Although many of us at community colleges have known for quite some time that large numbers of students fail to complete the certificate or degree that they had hoped to achieve, until relatively recently comprehensive remedy options have not been readily available to us. Such is no longer the case. In the interest of our students and citizenry, there is no time to lose in drawing from the effective models of systemic change—such as G2C and Guided Program Pathways—that advance the cause of success for all students.

LCC’s Operation 100% substantively engages this imperative. The stakes are too high and both the risks and the benefits—to students, families, communities, and the nation—are too great for us to do otherwise. We welcome and embrace the opportunity to act, and we are working with all deliberate speed to effect the desired ends.


The authors acknowledge and thank Martine Rife and Christine Conner not only for their leadership of the G2C (Martine) and Guided Program Pathways (Christine) initiatives, but also for their invaluable assistance with relevant aspects of this article. We also thank Khallai Taylor for helping with the initial phases of our Guided Program Pathways work and for offering suggestions for this article.


Adelman, Clifford. 2006. The Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion from High School through College. Washington, DC: US Department of Education.

Bailey, Thomas, Shanna Smith Jaggars, Davis Jenkins. 2015. “What We Know About Guided Pathways.” New York, NY: Community College Research Center.

Freeman, Scott, Sarah L. Eddy, Miles McDonough, Michelle K. Smith, Nnadozie Okoroafor, Hannah Jordt, and Mary Pat Wenderoth. 2014. “Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (23): 8410–8415.

Richard J. Prystowsky, provost and senior vice president of academic and student affairs, Lansing Community College; Andrew K. Koch, executive vice president of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, and project lead, Gateways to Completion; and Christopher A. Baldwin, senior director at Jobs for the Future, and former executive director, Michigan Center for Student Success