John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, an outgrowth of the Policy Center on the First Year of College, is a national, non-profit organization leader in efforts to improve undergraduate learning and retention at institutional, regional, and national levels. The Institute’s co founder principals are Betsy O. Barefoot and John N. Gardner.

The original Policy Center began operations in October of 1999, and was the inspired vision of Russell Edgerton, Senior Program Director for Higher Education at The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Center was initially launched with a grant from the Trusts with a charge that Barefoot and Gardner not duplicate any of their work from the previous founding of the National Resource Center and The First-Year Experience at the University of South Carolina; and that the Center become a leader in creating new tools for assessment of the first year of the college and university experience, all with the overriding goal from the Pew Trusts of making institutions take more responsibility for student learning.

The Institute was incorporated in May of 2007 as an autonomous 501c3 tax exempt, public charity and non-profit corporation named for its co-founder, John N. Gardner. Since 1999, the Center and Institute have provided hundreds of colleges and universities tools and processes designed to enhance institutional approaches to the first year. Colleges and universities participating in the Institute’s various projects and activities have included public and private, two-year and four-year institutions, as well as minority-serving, tribal, and single-gender campuses. The Institute’s past projects have included the development of regional consortia to support first-year initiatives, collaboration with research universities and other organizations to create a variety of assessment tools and instruments, sponsorship of a national campaign to recognize “Institutions of Excellence” in the first college year, national surveys of first-year policies and practices, and authorship of several major books and articles on topics related to the first year and other student transitions. Its most intense areas of work are in the providing of self-study, planning and assessment processes to improve undergraduate education, most notably through helping institutions create comprehensive plans for: the first year of higher education; the success of first-year and transfer students; reducing rates of D,W,F,I grades in high failure rate courses; and improving student retention outcomes.

As the Policy Center evolved between 1999 and 2005, it was supported almost entirely by grants from seven foundations (below). In 2005, the Center received a grant from Lumina Foundation to move from a grant-funded to a self-sustaining non-profit entity through the development of what is now one of the Institute’s signature lines of work: the comprehensive, voluntary, self-study process known as Foundations of Excellence® in the First College Year. As of 2017, over 280 campuses have participated in Foundations of Excellence. In more recent years the Institute has received grant support from three foundations to make investments for new work. However, our work is disproportionately supported by fees for services provided to colleges and universities.

Our Grant Funders

The Pew Charitable Trusts (1999-2002)
The Atlantic Philanthropies (2001-2004)
Lumina Foundation for Education (2003-April 2008)
USA Funds (2005-2007)
Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (2006-2007)
Kresge Foundation (2016-2019)
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2016-2017)
Lumina Foundation for Education (2016-2017)