John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

First-Year Summit

This retreat would be designed for a small group from your institution and would be attended by senior institutional leaders as well as first college year stakeholders and practitioners. The retreat experience would be supplemented by a year-long consultation process. The retreat would provide the opportunity for taking stock of your current efforts, but more importantly, for creating a new plan to improve student learning and success in the first year. In a retreat environment that is conducive to good thinking, planning, and relaxation, your team would be away from the normal press of campus affairs and able to really concentrate on issues related to beginning student success.

Advance Preparation

The Institute would request that your institution provide background information (such as student demographic and performance characteristics, results from prior assessments, institutional policies directed to first-year students, etc.) in advance of the meeting in order to help the Center’s staff to become more knowledgeable about your campus. This information is not being collected for research purposes and would not be released to any other parties.

Follow-Up Advisory Support

The Institute would provide, for one year after the retreat, off-site advisory support to assist the institution in the implementation of its new plan for the first year. This support would include:

  • The assignment of an Institute senior staff member to serve as primary liaison to the campus during the one-year follow-up/implementation period
  • Written feedback and recommendations
  • Availability to participate in conference calls and/or individual telephone conversations.

Who should attend?

Your institution would have total discretion and freedom to determine its team. We suggest that for maximum benefit, each team include campus leaders, first college year stakeholders, and practitioners. The team might include:

  • the chief executive officer
  • the chief academic officer and/or the chief undergraduate education officer
  • the associate academic officer
  • the chief student affairs officer
  • the chief financial officer
  • the chief enrollment management officer
  • the chief institutional research/assessment officer(s)
  • senior faculty governance/curricular leaders
  • first-year program directors
  • other first-year stakeholders and leaders
  • a representative of the Student Government Association or other appropriate student leader(s)

Who would lead the retreat?

John N. Gardner, Betsy O. Barefoot, and the staff of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. These principals are leaders of the international reform movement to rethink and redesign the beginning college experience. Click here  to read staff bios.

The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education is an independent, non-profit organization that works with colleges and universities to improve their assessment of the entire beginning college experience so as to improve student learning, success, and retention.

Where would the retreat be held?

The retreat would be held at an off-campus location of your choice. For example, there are many retreat locations in the Asheville environs of beautiful western North Carolina, for example, the Highland Lake Inn in Flat Rock, NC. We are also open to holding this retreat at an off-campus site in your region. 

What would be the retreat format and approximate schedule?

The retreat is designed to be an intensive, small group, interactive, intellectually stimulating, provocative experience. The process would include presentation of material by the facilitators on best practices to challenge and support new students and principles of change management as applied to the first year of college. But the primary focus would be on your campus-specific issues as defined in pre-event communication with the Institute.

Each retreat would be custom designed to meet specific institutional needs but general topics would include:

  • Core concepts of first-year student success and models for institutional excellence in the first year.
  • An inventory of information (on first year students, practices, programs, and policies), compiled by the institution with the guidance of the Institute, so that all participants would have a common basis of knowledge about the institution’s first year.
  • Guided evaluation of the institution’s challenges and opportunities, relevant data, and defined goals.
  • Recommendations for improvement. We would assist participants in distilling and synthesizing recommendations into a plan for further review, approval, and implementation back home. Institute staff would assist the campus in considering how to prioritize recommendations, develop timelines, determine resource implications, acknowledge sources of resistance and support, and determine responsibility centers.
  • Decisions about next steps. How to present the plan on your campus, and how the Institute can best assist the institution over the next year in implementing the plan.
Sample ScheduleDay 1: Participants would gather mid afternoon for a welcome and overview session. This would be followed by a reception and early dinner.Day 2: Through a mix of presentation and group interaction, we would work together throughout the day, allowing some late-afternoon time for a break before a reception and dinner.Day 3: The retreat would continue during the morning and conclude mid day.

Cost Structure

Base Professional Facilitation Fee for Institute Services

  • $15,000, if held in western North Carolina
  • $20,000 plus cost of Institute staff travel, if held outside western North Carolina region

The fee includes planning and facilitation of the retreat in addition to one year’s off-site follow-up advisory support provided by Institute staff. The cost for transportation, accommodations, and meals will vary depending on geographic location, site selection, and number of institutional participants and is the responsibility of the institution.

For more information contact John Gardner at or (828) 885-6014.