John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Madison Area Technical College

Institutional Profile

Foundations of Excellence® Cohort:
2007-2008 National Select
Carnegie Classification:
Associate’s-Public-Rural Serving-Large
Regional Accreditation:
Higher Learning Commission
Contact Information:

Janice L. Mettauer, First-Year Experience Coordinator

Improving the First Year of College in a Climate of Institutional Change
Janice L. Mettauer, First-Year Experience Coordinator

Madison Area Technical College (MATC) is a large technical and community college in the city of Madison, Wisconsin. The College participated in the Foundations of Excellence® in the First College Year self-study process in 2007-2008. There are several reasons why the time was right for MATC to participate in the Foundations self study:

  • The philosophy of the College has changed from one of self-advocacy on the part of the students to one of providing intentional support on the part of the College.

  • MATC’s Three-Year Strategic Plan places great emphasis on the retention of first-year students.

  • The College is an AQIP college, has experience in a self-study process and is committed to continuous improvement.

  • The College had created a First-Year Experience faculty coordinator position, and the work of the director needed to be more clearly defined.

  • There are pockets of excellence throughout the College which support some first year students, but no coordinated, intentional first-year experience for all new students.

  • The leadership of the College is committed to developing this type of program for its first-year students.  

“There are pockets of excellence throughout the College which support some first year students, but no coordinated, intentional first-year experience for all new students."

A Discreet Approach to Self Study

Madison Area Technical College was in an interesting position when it began the self study. The top leadership of the College had recently changed, and the new President and three Vice Presidents were in the process of reorganizing the structure and some of the processes of the institution. The employees of the College were saturated with the idea and practice of change. Therefore, the campus leaders for the Foundations of Excellence project made the decision not to introduce the self-study process with too much fanfare. Instead, the two campus liaisons to the Policy Center proceeded to build and work with the dimension teams in a quiet way. The year passed, the institutional reorganization was completed and assimilated and the self-study went more smoothly than could have been imagined at first.

Then at the beginning of the 2008-2009 academic year, the leadership introduced the FoE process to the College. During Convocation, Dr. Betsy Barefoot gave the keynote address, and she and the liaison to the Policy Center conducted two breakout sessions describing the process and discussing the recommendations and the Implementation Plan. The attendance at the two sessions was considerable. Now the College was on board.

Recommendations and Implementation Strategies

The impact of the process will not be felt dramatically at first; it will take time for the College to fully employ the implementation plan. The dimension teams put forth over 120 recommendations, too many to put into action all at once. But the Implementation Plan team members noticed that there were some overall key proposals that ran through many of the dimension teams. The first of those was for the College to develop a coordinated, intentional first-year experience for all new students. Most of the teams found that MATC actually has support services that benefit first-year students and many more were being developed, but the services are reaching only some new students. The recommendation is to coordinate these services and systematically expand them so that students who need them would be served. The implementation team has focused its energies specifically on this recommendation. Another key recommendation is to make some of the services for new students mandatory. As MATC moves from the philosophy of students have a right to fail to MATC has an obligation to support students, faculty and staff are seeing the value of making certain activities, events, and courses mandatory. Some examples include new student orientation, academic advising, and a first-year seminar course. The last key recommendation suggested by many of the teams was to develop a comprehensive academic advising program, and more specifically faculty advising, a service that many of the teams saw as essential to the success and retention of MATC students.

There are two other ways that the recommendations will be implemented. First, the Implementation Plan team members recognized that many of the recommendations could not be given to the First-Year Experience coordinator to implement. They belonged to other areas of the College. These recommendations were sent to the leaders of those areas, and their progress toward implementation will be monitored by the Learner Success and Preparedness System Integration Council.

Three recommendations were also sent to the College Council as possible choices for an AQIP Continuous Quality Improvement project. During an earlier AQIP project, MATC adopted a continuous quality improvement process called Six Sigma. This process helps an institution make changes through continually working on several projects at one time, which is true of the AQIP process as well. MATC usually has ten projects going at once; when one project ends, the College Council chooses another in its place. The three recommendations sent to the College Council to consider are:

  1. Establish an official means of communication to new students.
  2. Develop learning outcomes and assessments for out-of-classroom activities through Student Life.
  3. Establish a mentor program through the First-Year Experience program. 

The First-Year Experience coordinator is in the process of working with faculty from ten programs throughout the College on a pilot program to be implemented for their first-year students in fall 2009. These students will be assessed for their intent and risk factors, encouraged to access services that will help them address those risks, and provided with a faculty advisor who will monitor their progress and intervene, if they begin to show any troubling signs. If the outcomes of this project prove to be beneficial to the retention and success of these incoming students, the coordinator will expand the program until all new students are served in this coordinated and intentional way.

Without the work of the dimension and implementation plan teams through the FoE process, many new students at MATC would be successful and return to the College for their second semester, but many would also leave the College when just a bit of connection and guidance might have helped them to achieve their academic goals.