John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

The Most Inspiring Meeting I Attend All Year

There is no doubt about it, I am a conference junkie. And the best meeting I attend on an annual basis is one with a rather non attention grabbing name: the Foundations of Excellence Winter Meeting. My criteria for “the best” is really twofold: the inspiration and gratification I receive from attending.

So, what is this “Winter Meeting”? Well, it is an annual convening of institutional teams from two and four-year colleges and universities, who either have been or are currently participants in the Foundations of Excellence self-study and action planning process to improve new and/or transfer student success. At this meeting we bring together higher educators who have both developed and implemented the Foundations of Excellence Action Plan and integrate them with those that are just going through the planning process. We want the former cohort to inspire and mentor the latter, and they do. And they all inspire me, the veterans and the novitiates.

We have had 167 institutions go through this planning process and are working with 35 more this year. Recent externally conducted research on Foundations of Excellence outcomes, as I have written about previously, has determined that for those institutions that create the FoE Action Plan and then implement it to a high degree, realize in the aggregate, an 8.2% increase in retention. Amazing, but it’s happening.

This year we are encouraging fellow educators who have not yet participated in Foundations of Excellence to participate in the annual Winter Meeting. I predict they will be inspired to emulate the big idea—whether they do the big idea with us or not. So this invitation is not shameless commerce. The big idea of course is to develop a plan for institutional improvement and then actually implement it!

The Winter Meeting will be held this year on Friday, February 4 in Atlanta. Click here for more information. February is the time of the winter doldrums. We all need to be rejuvenated and that is a great time and a promising context. Trust me.

-John N. Gardner

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