John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Central Michigan University

Institutional Profile

Foundations of Excellence® Cohort:
2006-2007 National Select
Carnegie Classification:
Doctoral Research University
Regional Accreditation:
Higher Learning Commission
Contact Information:

Jason Bentley, Ph. D. Coordinator, First Year Experience

Raising Academic Performance at Central Michigan University
Jason Bentley, Ph.D., Coordinator, First Year Experience

Central Michigan University (CMU) recognizes the importance of supporting student success. The vision plan (CMU 2010) completed in 2005 noted that the top institutional priority is teaching and learning with specific focus on strategies and initiatives to enhance the first college year. After review of the Foundations of Excellence® (FoE) self-study process, in September 2006 the ad hoc Provost/Senate Academic, Residence Life and Student Affairs Liaison Committee (ARLSA) initiated a campus-wide process engaging more than 100 faculty, staff and students.  


Between September 2006 and February 2007, FoE Task Force members completed comprehensive reviews that resulted in nine dimension reports with more than 50 recommendations. To share information, chart progress and solicit feedback, the Task Force utilized a comprehensive website ( Using this site, all members assisted in review of the recommendations and generated six priorities.

In April 2007, the Task Force presented preliminary findings to the Faculty Senate. Following the preliminary review, the Task Force released the report for additional campus feedback. In June and July, two drafts of the comprehensive report were submitted for feedback first to the Task Force members then to all members of the campus community. Synthesis of feedback and preparation of the final report and plan occurred in October 2007.


The final report outlined several areas that illustrated CMU’s commitment to success. Specifically, the report noted that CMU:

  1. Offered excellent printed materials, programs, events and services that communicate and orient students and/or family members to the college environment.
  2. Supported a variety of events and/or services by multiple divisions across campus to assist all students with achieving academic success.
  3. Provided opportunities for co-curricular activity and communicated these to students through multiple venues.
  4. Connected first-year students with experienced students, faculty and staff, both academically and socially, as a strategy to educate students holistically.
  5. Organized programs that supported student retention and persistence.

Just as the self-study highlighted the positive work taking place across campus, areas for continued focus and improvement also emerged. In the final report, the Task Force and campus community agreed to six priority recommendations to best support enhanced teaching and learning. These recommendations called for CMU to complete the following actions.

  1. Create a first year of college office.
  2. Develop a university-wide first year of college philosophy and learning goals.
  3. Require all first-year students to be involved with a learning community. Requiring all students to participate in some organized learning experience would assist with the dissemination of key information
  4. Create a development program and manual for faculty, staff and teaching assistants.
  5. Recognize faculty, staff and other personnel within the first year experience.
  6. Enhance communication regarding the first year of college.

New Initiatives

Following the release of the final report, a working group appointed by the Provost convened to determine implementation plans and the resources required to enact the desired change. Members of this group worked collaboratively with the ad hoc Provost/Senate Academic, Residence Life and Student Affairs Liaison Committee (ARLSA) and the Raising Academic Performance Committee (RAP) to investigate possibilities and potential limitations for the implementation of each recommendation. Working together these three groups reviewed institutional data, relevant professional literature, and completed an environmental scan of other universities’ efforts. Based on these findings, the three groups outlined strategies for creating greater coordination among the many and varied undergraduate learning activities taking place at CMU.

These three groups together recommended a series of initiatives to create a cultural shift among both students and faculty to prioritize undergraduate teaching and the value of liberal learning as a core feature of the CMU experience. To ensure clear communication of institutional values, articulation of academic expectations, and availability of resources to support student learning, this second task force expanded the work of the FoE committee and recommended implementation of the following new initiatives.

  1. Establish responsibilities for oversight, coordination and evaluation of all first-year focused activities.
  2. Ensure that all first-year students participate in one of the campus’s first-year programs. This request called for CMU to sustain and expand current first-year programs with common learning outcomes, professional development for faculty, new seminar courses within general education or entry-level courses in majors/college, and focus on a number of identified topics.
  3. Improve the availability of high quality advising to undergraduate students and institute additional pre-term sessions for new students to improve their academic achievement. Also, offer extended orientation sessions or activities and complete an automated degree audit system for undergraduates and advisors.
  4. Create a new Task Force to examine the undergraduate degree requirements, particularly the B.S., the B.A., and the B.A.A. to increase clarity and improve time to graduation.
  5. Refine and implement a campus-wide early warning system that expands efforts currently used within CMU’s First Year Experience Program and Office of Residence Life to intervene and assist all first year students earning a grade less than “C”.
  6. Expand services offered by the Math Assistance Center to include support for all quantitatively intensive 100 and 200 level courses.

“The inclusive, evidence-based process created awareness, facilitated broad, transparent engagement, and resulted in a shift toward a new culture focused on CMU’s top priority of teaching and learning.”

Culture Shift

The FoE process increased focus on undergraduate teaching and learning at CMU. Through the self-study and continuing work of the ARLSA and RAP committees, there is significant change in community discussions and institutional priorities on the issues facing the life, learning and connections of first-year students. The inclusive, evidence-based process created awareness, facilitated broad, transparent engagement, and resulted in a shift toward a new culture focused on CMU’s top priority of teaching and learning. Because of the FoE self-study and ongoing conversations, there is a more coordinated effort to support all incoming students and create opportunities for more of CMU’s finest faculty to engage intentionally with students early and often. Through FoE, the campus community further distinguished CMU as an institution that effectively educates students from many backgrounds and levels of preparation for professional and career success.