John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Connecting Foundations of Excellence® to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Quality Enhancement Plan

There are 69 institutions in the Southern Association region that have participated in Foundations of Excellence (FoE) in the in the First-Year and/or Transfer Focus. Of these institutions, 57 did the FoE First Year and 26 did FoE Transfer Focus self studies and action plans. As the numbers suggest, 14 institutions undertook both projects either simultaneously or in different years.

A number of institutions that participated in Foundations of Excellence close to the time of their Southern Association of Colleges and Schools(SACS) accreditation review or the development of their Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) have made a connection between the two projects. Institutions preparing for their fifth-year report have mentioned citing their Foundations of Excellence work in a number of ways including: tying an initiative from the FoE action plan to Institutional Effectiveness: Educational Support Services and 3.4.9 Academic Support Services, using the FoE process in addressing assessment and strategic planning, and referencing the FoE survey data in support of standards.

Thirteen institutions have made a connection between their Foundations of Excellence work and their QEP. Six of these institutions used information or recommendations from their FoE process in the development of their QEP; while, the other institutions used FoE to address aspects of their existing QEP. For many of the institutions the timing of their participation in FoE has not coincided closely enough with their QEP to link the two. The following brief descriptions provide a glimpse of the kinds of connections that institutions have made between their Foundations of Excellence project and their QEP for SACS.

Foundations of Excellence project to develop a SACS QEP

Gateway Community and Technical College’s two year process of identifying the QEP topic engaged stakeholders in the question, if you could do one thing to improve student learning at Gateway, what would it be? The answer, providing students the right start, identified the broad topic of ‘first year experience’. During 2011-2012, the Foundations of Excellence (FoE) First Year process was utilized to conduct a thorough institutional audit on how well the institution was serving new students in their first year of college. The results of the FoE process provided a focus for the QEP around new student orientation, non-academic services, and academic advising. Gateway’s QEP, SMART: Student Mentoring through Advising, Retention, and Transitions, will build foundational relationships between students and professional advisors; between students and faculty advisors; and, between students and college resources.

Lone Star College System (LSC) selected the first-year experience as the focus of its QEP entitled “Best Start” in the summer of 2010. This selection of this theme for the QEP builds upon five student success initiatives undertaken by the college during the preceding decade. Insights and information from LSC-North Harris’ participation in Foundations of Excellence during 2009-2010 were used along with insights from the other initiatives in the selection of the theme and focused topic of the QEP. LSC-Montgomery conducted its FoE self study in 2010-2011. The other three Lone Star Colleges are undertaking FoE self studies in 2011-2012.

College of Coastal Georgia participated in the Foundations of Excellence in 2009-2010, the same year it was beginning the topic selection process for its QEP. The research and surveys that were part of the FoE self study suggested the need to educate students and faculty on the merits of service-learning. One of recommendations that emerged in the FoE action plan was the need to develop a synergistic service-learning program. This recommendation was consistent with an element of the College’s new mission statement. Service learning also emerged from a call for QEP topics sent to faculty and staff. Together these forces coalesced to the development of Learning through Engagement: Service Learning as the College’s QEP.

Florida SouthWestern State College, formerly Edison State College, developed their Foundations of Excellence recommendations into six categories: Assessment and Evaluation, Orientation, Student Success, Training and Development, Communication, and Student Learning.  The Student Learning component was developed as the QEP; it will become the first-year experience course entitled “Cornerstone Experience”.  The “Cornerstone Experience” (QEP) and the other five components comprise the FYE Program entitled “The Foundations of Self-Reliant Learning”.  They fall under the direction of the newly created First Year Experience department. There is more information about Florida SouthWestern’s QEP on their website.

Reinhardt College’s interest in developing an intentional and cohesive first-year experience (FYE) and in using the FYE development as a project for their upcoming QEP arose from their review of general education. As a way to develop a more manageable project for their QEP Reinhardt College decided to participate in the Foundations of Excellence. The FoE project increased broad-based campus involvement and buy-in regarding the importance of the first college year. It was critical to the identification of first-year student learning issues appropriate for the College’s QEP. The Compass Project, a QEP to improve reading and writing in the first year, developed from the FoE self-study. Eight of the nine FoE action items were addressed to different degrees in the Compass Project.

Virginia Highlands Community College selected its QEP, Strengthening Orientation, Advising, and Retention (SOAR), based upon the data, information, and recommendations from the Foundations of Excellence project. As a result of its 2005-06 FoE process VHCC developed a philosophy statement that is consistent with their mission and underlies their QEP. The Steering Committee of the Foundations of Excellence Task Force recommended that VHCC focus on the developmental model of advising and specifically look at 1) Orientation, 2) Advising, 3) Communication, and 4) Early Intervention as the basis for the QEP. In 2006-07 the QEP Teams developed an implementation plan for each of the four areas that make-up the SOAR QEP.

Using Foundation of Excellence to address a QEP

Henderson Community College identified the focus for its QEP as changing the culture of academic advising after fall 2009 surveys of stakeholders revealed overall dissatisfaction with advising. The QEP, G.P.S.- Goals/Priorities/Success- Developing a goal Based Advising Plan, included several interconnected elements: the use of advising syllabi, building of a goal-based academic agreement, the development of advisor training modules, the creation of a Start Center, and a First-Year Experience course. HCC initiated FoE Transfer Focus in fall 2011 and FoE First Year in fall 2012asserting evidence from these evaluations wouldinform the QEP implementation and fit well with its timeline. The HCC FoE Transfer Focus action plan added new transfer elements to the development of the Start Center and advising training. FoE First Year is expected to inform additional refinements in implementation of the QEP.

Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s (BCTC) Southern Association of Colleges accreditation body approved the Quality Enhancement Plan, Read for Life, in 2010. To meet the goals of this QEP faculty and staff are promoting reading throughout the curriculum and beyond.  Understanding that first-generation college students may lack prior knowledge to understand institutional terminology, one component is to promote BCTC Literacy and College Lingo in which students are exposed to common terminology they need to know in order to be successful.  This BCTC Literacy/College Lingo component will be addressed at length in the new FYE College Success Course that was one of the recommendations from the FoE First Year self study. 

The University of Texas at El Paso took a different approach to their FoE self-study by focusing on transfer rather than first-year students. Its experience, as well as, the experience at Wichita State University and the urging of other institutions, prompted the development of the Foundations of Excellence Transfer Focus. UTEP’s focus on transfer students in their FoE self-study helps to explain in part how they made a connection to their QEP which focuses on Student Success in the Middle Year through curriculum review and advising renewal. One of the major goals of the UTEP QEP involves reinventing academic and career advising. UTEP created the Advising Task Force to develop a plan to address this goal.  The co-chairs of this Task Force also chaired the Roles and Purposes Subcommittee of FoE. Their work on the Task Force helped inform their work on FoE.  In like manner, their work on FoE has helped to inform their Advising Task Force work.

Florida Southern College’s QEP, Student Awareness Generates Action (SAGA), was designed to engage students, faculty, and staff campus-wide in understanding and taking consequential actions related to annual themes.  The annual theme is integrated into the first-year experience through a common reading, activities in orientation, and freshman seminar. Several of the recommendations in Florida Southern College’s FoE action plan rely on or integrate the QEP.  For example, recommendation 2 of the FoE plan was to establish an oversight committee of faculty, staff, and students to meet prior to the launch of the annual theme to ensure the intentional development of integrated, mutually-supporting theme-related programs and initiatives.  The oversight committee was implemented in fall 2008 to great success.

Georgia Southern University began developing its QEP,Advancing a Culture of Engagement: Creating the Engaged Learner in 2003; two years prior to the University’s participation in Foundations of Excellence. Three of the five objectives of the final QEP focused on the first year. Georgia Southern participated in the FoE in order to better achieve these objectives. The FoE self-study produced many significant findings. Some of the results led to the formation of the Faculty Task Force; the group was charged with developing academic challenge/support initiatives to strengthen the First-Year Experience on campus. 

University of North Texas was developing their first QEP at the same time as they were involved in the FoE self-study. The QEP at UNT involved redesigning large core classes using technology and innovative teaching methods. One outcome of the FoE self-study was the creation of an early warning intervention for the classes using indicators like attendance, failing the first quiz, homework results, etc. and referral of identified students to offices that could help them be successful in the class. This was developed into a proposal for Title III funding, which was received. The grant enabled expansion of the outreach and speed up the revamping of all of the core courses.

Berea College designed its QEP, Route 101: Highway to enhanced Student Learning at Berea, to improve student success by focusing on improving learning skills for both students on probation and first-year students. Berea College engaged in the Foundations of Excellence self-study during the first year of its QEP, during which they intended to study best practices, consult with experts, and develop the plan for their first year seminar. Their FoE project directly supported the development of the first year components of Berea’s QEP.