John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Minot State University

Institutional Profile
Foundations of Excellence® Cohort:
2007-2008 National Select
Carnegie Classification:
Master’s S
Regional Accreditation:
Higher Learning Commission
Contact Information:

Dick Jenkins, Ed.D., Vice President for Student Affairs

Implementing the FoE Action Plan at Minot State University

Dick Jenkins, Ed.D., Vice President for Student Affairs

In early August 2007, six faculty and staff from Minot State University, including President David Fuller attended the Foundations of Excellence program launch training in Asheville, N.C. FoE co-chairs Gary Rabe, VP for Academic Affairs, and Dick Jenkins, VP for Student Affairs, also attended. Over the course of the year-long self-study the program became an important collaboration between academic and student affairs. Minot State University was part of a 2007-08 national cohort of thirteen four-year schools dedicated to improving the first year of college. Upon returning, this group introduced the program to the campus at the opening fall convocation with a briefing and a video.

Developing the FoE Report and Action Plan

Nine individual Dimension committees spent the late fall and winter months meeting and working on their reports. Once each committee had concluded its work and given its area a grade, the report was submitted and useful feedback was received from Policy Center liaison Betsy Barefoot. The initial report draft was then ready to be unveiled to the campus to make sure it was on track. Two campus public forums were held on May 1st to help prioritize all of the action items. The Steering Committee then synthesized the action items into five main “action themes.” They were: academic advising, communicating and connecting, faculty/student success, first-year event, and organizational.

Sub-groups of Steering Committee members then studied these themes and developed them further by assigning costs; rating impact, priority and political sensitivity; and identifying responsible parties and alignment with the strategic plan. Narrative summaries were written and a matrix for easy viewing and summarization was created. This information was then distilled into a set of prioritized immediate recommended actions and some longer term recommended actions. The plans provided an estimated timeline, the party responsible and an estimate of projected financial resources for each action item. All of this activity culminated with the development of this final narrative report that included a “report card” based on institutional performance on each of the nine program dimensions. Copies of the final report were distributed to FoE Committee members, University Cabinet, deans, department chairs and senate presidents. This full report was accessible electronically to all of campus and the general public on the MSU website.

“Upon the development of an aspirational peer group, MSU’s concerns became clear. A comparative analysis of retention and graduation rates found that MSU fell below that of the peer group on a number of areas, to include retention and graduation rates.”

Finding Synergy between Projects

There was a great deal of benefit to the timing of the FoE self-study, since it occurred at the same time as the ten-year accreditation review cycle with the North Central Association’s Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The collection and organization of information for HLC paid dividends in doing the same for FoE. Coincidentally, several members of the HLC visiting evaluation team were going through the FoE process on their own campuses and recognized the value of the experience. Another interesting development coincidental to the year of FoE study was Minot State University’s application for a Title III Strengthening Institutions grant. The focus of this proposal was increasing engagement and first-to-second year retention of students in order to grow enrollment. Because of the overlapping areas of interest and recommendations common to both FoE and Title III, the Steering Committee approached the writing of the FoE final report by assuming Minot State would receive Title III funding. FoE and Title III plans were integrated and viewed as an entire package. As it turned out, Minot State did not get funded in the first year of competition but was selected in the second year. To some degree this delayed implementation of the FoE program goals but the campus has been greatly enhanced by the Title III funded initiatives.

Implementing the FoE Action Plan

The longer term impact of the FoE process has been in the areas of academic advisement and the development of learning communities. The need for a revamped advising system was a prevalent theme in Minot State University’s FoE review. Five of the nine dimension committees explicitly highlighted advising as an issue requiring attention. The result was that 31 of 119 action items were advising-related, the highest single category. As a direct result of FoE, a campus advising coordinator was hired and Student Affairs staff were reorganized into a Student Success Center providing advising for first-year students and those majoring in general studies.

To meet the overlapping goals of Title III and FoE, the Center for Engaged Teaching and Learning (CETL) was developed.  CETL was tasked with achieving the primary objective of the Title III grant, increasing student success.  CETL is meeting this primary objective in two specific ways: the goals of CETL are to increase levels of engagement among Minot State students to the levels of our peer institutions, as measured by the National Survey of Student Engagement and to increase first-to-second year retention (to 75% by 9/30/13); and the six year graduation rate (to 40% by 9/13/2013, and 43% by 9/30/2015).

Incorporating engagement experiences for all students has begun. One way in which all first-year students will participate in some form of experiential learning is through the first-year learning community. The first-year learning community is comprised of three linked courses, two courses that currently exist within academic departments and the third course, a two-credit special-topics course that incorporates issues specific to first-year students.  In the fall of 2009, 34 students participated in three pilot learning communities that incorporated an engagement experience.  The feedback from both students and faculty was positive.

We have compared retention rates, GPA, and credit hours earned of those who participated in the pilot versus those students who took regular courses.  The results for this small pilot group were encouraging.  Retention rates, from fall to spring semester, for those students who participated in the pilot were 90% compared to 82% of those students who did not participate in the pilot program.  Average term credit hours for fall semester were also higher in those students who participated in the pilot program compared to the students who did not participate, 14.5 to 13.94 respectively.  There was also a difference in the fall term GPA, with those who participated in the pilot program averaging a fall GPA of 2.94, whereas those students who did not participate received an average fall term GPA of 2.71. In fall 2010, 152 students participated in learning communities that incorporated an engagement experience. The goal is to make these learning communities with engagement experiences available to all first-year students by fall 2013.

Another strategy for improvement was to implement a faculty development program to enhance first-year experiences for students. To date, four workshops, specifically aimed at those faculty members who are teaching first-year students, have been conducted.  Approximately 50 faculty and staff members from across campus participated in these workshops. Workshop topics include course preparation and appropriate objectives, outcomes, and activities for first-year students; incorporating appropriate civic engagement activities; how to use different engaged teaching and learning strategies within and outside of your classroom; utilizing peer mentors within the first-year learning communities; and, finally, incorporating student services, library services, and community involvement into first-year courses.

Impacting Retention and Graduation Rates

Minot State University participated in the Foundations of Excellence process to assess the status of programs for first-year students and to address concerns about the freshman-to-sophomore retention and graduation rates. In the fall of 2006, MSU’s strategic plan, Vision 2013, was formally presented to the campus and the general public. The document presented seven strategies that have been used to achieve the strategic goal of becoming “one of the premier public, regional universities in the ‘great’ Great Plains.” Strategy Two of Vision 2013 specifically addressed the fostering of engaged learning and place for the benefit of students. Indeed, a key priority to making this strategy a reality was the creation of a “first-rate comprehensive program to support first-year students, their retention and their success.”

Upon the development of an aspirational peer group, MSU’s concerns became clear. A comparative analysis of retention and graduation rates found that MSU fell below that of the peer group on a number of areas, to include retention and graduation rates. During the 2007-08 academic year MSU’s reported retention rate was 69%, 3% less than the aspirational peer mean. The gap between graduation rates among MSU and its aspirational peers was even more alarming; MSU reported a 31% graduation rate for the academic year 2007-08, a difference of 19%. Since the establishment of specific objectives MSU has seen significant increases in both retention rates (72%; 2010) and graduation rates (34%; 2010).

There is no doubt that the Foundations of Excellence process has had a major impact on the Minot State University campus. First year students for years to come will benefit from the pioneering work initiated under the guidance of the staff at the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. University personnel are appreciative of the opportunity to participate in this valuable process.