John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education


The Gardner Institute has long been an advocate of encouraging colleges and universities to integrate their desire to focus on evaluating and improving their students’ first-year or transfer experience with their accreditation process. As John Gardner often puts it: “this is a way of linking something you don’t have to do with something you do have to do!” This integration raises the level of institutional awareness and long-term commitment to the importance of the first year or transfer. Connecting the accreditation process to a voluntary improvement initiative also makes accreditation more meaningful and rewarding for many campus constituents. Stated very simply, this is a way of an institution being rewarded (by reaffirmation of accreditation) for doing something it wanted to do in the first place.

Institutions in three accrediting regions have capitalized on the synergy between these processes. Since 2005 the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association and the Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, have had formal agreements to incorporate the Foundations of Excellence (FoE) into the HLC accreditation process. While this is the only formal agreement to integrate FoE into regional accreditation, institutions accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) have linked FoE work with accreditation reports and their Quality Enhancement Plan and those accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) have linked the their FoE work to numerous MSCHE standards. To learn more about the nature of the connections institutions in these regions have made between FoE and accreditation click on the name of the accrediting organization in this paragraph.

These formal and informal linkages between the Foundations of Excellence process and the regional accreditors are reflected in the distribution of the geographic locations of the FoE institutional participants to date, as follows:

Higher Learning Commission: 100 institutions

Southern Association of Colleges and Universities: 74 institutions

Middle States Commission on Higher Education: 39 institutions

New England Association of Schools and Colleges: 15 institutions

Western Association of Schools and Colleges: 6 institutions

Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities: 13 institutions

Another connection demonstrating the affinity between the goals and processes of regional accreditors and those of the Institute’s Foundations process, is the fact that HLC, SACS, MSCHE, and WASC have invited presentations and workshops by Institute personnel about the Foundations process at their annual meetings. The Institute is extremely fortunate to have such imprimatur from the country’s higher education system’s primary drivers of educational change and improvement.