Our Mission, Vision & History

Teaching, Learning, Success, Retention, Completion,

Equity, Social Justice and Mobility




The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to partnering with colleges, universities, philanthropic organizations, educators, and other entities to increase institutional responsibility for improving outcomes associated with teaching, learningretention, and completion. Through its efforts, the Institute will strive to advance higher education’s larger goal of achieving equity and social justice.




Ensuring dynamic educational opportunities.

The Institute will help higher education and related organizations to individually and/or collectively define or redefine excellence in undergraduate education and will assist with the application of these definitions to practice and/or policy. These actions will support efforts to facilitate innovation in colleges, universities, and the broader systems of which they are a part. The ensuing dynamic educational opportunities will transform the institutions, the people they serve, the places in which they live and work, and the broader societies and economies of which they are a part.



The Institute will undertake a wide range of educational activities that will include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Continuing to provide campuses with the externally guided, voluntary, comprehensive self-study processes, such as Foundations of Excellence® First Year and Transfer; Gateways to Completion®; and Retention Performance Management®;
  • Leading a major national advocacy initiative to focus on faculty roles in teaching and revising gateway, high-failure-rate courses. The effort will provide faculty development opportunities focusing both on evidence-based pedagogies, (Teaching and Learning Academy) and the use of learner analytics to improve teaching and learning (Analytics in Pedagogy and Curriculum);
  • Collaborating with the National Academic Advising Association in a new process to advance excellence in academic advising;
  • Developing a new process to accelerate the adoption or enhance the effectiveness of “high-impact practices”;
  • Conducting evaluations, surveys, educational training, research, and advisory services for postsecondary institutions, government agencies, foundations, and other appropriate entities that aspire to improve undergraduate student learning, success, retention, and degree completion;
  • Sustaining previous and current partnerships, and developing new partnerships with colleges, universities, philanthropic organizations, educators, and other entities that share a common interest in pursuing excellence in undergraduate education;
  • Providing unique meetings, retreats, professional development activities, networks, and other opportunities for the support and professional advancement of postsecondary educators who share a common interest in achieving excellence in undergraduate education;
  • Providing information and research to educational institutions through electronic, print, and other means of dissemination;
  • Providing pro bono services and information for postsecondary educators and institutions as the Institute may deem appropriate; and
  • Initiating other service activities to improve undergraduate education that are consistent with the Institute’s mission, resources, capabilities, interests, and tax-exempt non-profit status.


The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education is an Affirmative Action Equal Opportunity Employer.

Admission to, employment by, and promotion within the Institute shall be on the basis of merit, and there shall be no discrimination on the basis of age, race, ethnicity, creed, religion, disability, gender, gender identity and expression, national origin, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, or any characteristic protected by law.



Since 1999, we have provided hundreds of colleges and universities tools and processes designed to enhance undergraduate experience, success and outcomes.


The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education is 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 Policy 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 2018, over 300 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.




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