John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Foundations of Excellence® First Year Task Force

A New Means of First-Year Assessment

The Foundations of Excellence self-study and improvement planning process is conducted by the campus’s Foundations of Excellence Task Force. This task force has broad representation from various constituent groups and is led by a Foundations of Excellence liaison who is the primary conduit of information to and from the Gardner Institute. The task force conducts the self study using the tools and resources provided by the Gardner Institute. Each task force determines its own method of work (committee of the whole versus sub-committees) and determines its own schedule of meetings. The task force makes collective judgments about an institution’s level of achievement of each of the Dimensions by using quantitative and qualitative data sources as well as professional judgments. The task force also develops an improvement and strategic action plan that acknowledges what the campus is doing well and recommends both immediate and long-term changes. This is all designed to insure that the fundamental “evaluation” process here so central to this assessment is completed by the task force and not by the Institute. Further, this is designed to insure long-term ownership of the resulting in a strategic action plan and thus greater probability that the plan will actually be implemented, which is the ultimate goal of the process.

The work of the task force begins with the Current Practices Inventory (CPI) which serves two functions. Conducting the CPI is a professional development activity for the task force as it requires the group to review the whole first year across recruiting, admissions, orientation, the curriculum, the co-curriculum, and all other components that make up the first year for new students. Secondly, the CPI provides a map to processes, policies and assessments that will be used by the task force in evaluating the campus’s level of achievement of each of the Dimensions. It is anticipated that task forces will spend approximately one month in completing the CPI.

The core of the task force work will be determining a collective, agreed-upon response to the performance indicators provided for each Dimension. The various perspectives represented by task force participants may make immediate consensus challenging, but the conversations and debates, informed by credible sources of evidence, allow the task force to develop a realistic and defensible conclusion about the campus’s achievement of each Dimension and actions needed for future improvement. Task forces will present evidence, both qualitative and quantitative, to support their judgments on each of the performance indicators.

Two surveys, developed collaboratively by the Gardner Institute and Educational Benchmarking, Inc., provide additional information about the campus’s achievement of the Dimensions. The first, the Foundations of Excellence Student Survey, collects information from students at the end of their first term about the institution’s performance from the student’s viewpoint and about their intentions for persistence in the future. The second, the Foundations of Excellence Faculty/Staff Survey, collects faculty and staff perceptions of the level of achievement of each Dimension and information about educational practices both in and out of class. Results of the surveys are used by task forces in their deliberations about the performance indicators.

The final work of the task force is the development of a comprehensive plan and schedule for action and improvement. In subsequent years, a campus’s implementation of its Strategic Action Plan may be conducted with or without the assistance of the Gardner Institute. As many improvements can be implemented immediately, the improvement phase may overlap the self-study phase.

This self-study process is designed to be completed in approximately one calendar year; however, should this process require additional time, participating campuses have a two-year access to the FoEtec ® technology platform.