Achieving and Sustaining Excellence in the First Year of College / Edition 1 available in Hardcover
About the Author
Betsy Barefoot is co-director of the Policy Center on the First Year of College, and directed the publications center for the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina for 11 years.
John Gardner is executive director of the Policy Center on the First Year of College and was the founder of the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina. He has co-authored three other books with Jossey-Bass.
Marc Cutright is assistant professor of higher education at Ohio University and a research fellow of the Policy Center on the First Year of College.
Libby Morris is associate professor of higher education and interim director, Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia. She is editor of the Journal of Innovative Higher Education.
Charles Schroeder is a senior executive with Noel-Levitz and cofounder of Jossey-Bass' About Campus magazine.
Stephen Schwartz is a visiting senior fellow at the Policy Center on the First Year of College.
Michael Siegel is a research associate for the Policy Center on the First Year of College.
Randy Swing is codirector of the Policy Center on the First Year of College.
Read an Excerpt
Achieving and Sustaining Institutional Excellence for the First Year of College
By Betsy O. Barefoot
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7879-7151-0
Chapter OneOn Being Named an Institution of Excellence in the First College Year
The Process and the Places
Suppose you wanted to find a campus or campuses that had become truly excellent in delivering the first year of higher education. Where would you look for models? Would you know such a campus when you saw it? What would be your criteria? These questions guided a two-year research project begun in February 2002 by the Policy Center on the First Year of College and supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Atlantic Philanthropies, and Lumina Foundation for Education. The project, called Institutions of Excellence in the First College Year, was designed to move beyond a random collection of good ideas for first-year programs to a more systematic selection of colleges and universities that can serve as exemplars for achieving first-year excellence. Although this book contains many examples of specific first-year programs-orientation, residence life, learning communities, first-year seminars, advising structures, and others-the primary focus is on the totality of the first year: how these various components become embodied in a campus's overall approach to its new students.
This book provides portraits of excellence in the first year in the form of case studies of each of the thirteen institutions selected for this recognition. Case studies were constructed following an intensive review of written materials submitted by each campus in nomination portfolios and a campus visit conducted by a two-person research team in the fall of 2002. These teams authored each of the thirteen case study chapters in the book. On campus visits, researchers met students, faculty, and administrators; heard their stories; and experienced firsthand the institutional environment. Each case study reveals a unique mix of institutional history, leadership, student characteristics, and programmatic initiatives that converge to create an exemplary first year. We believe that educators from any sector of higher education can learn from the experiences of these thirteen institutions-not only about their successes but about challenges, past and current, that frame the ultimate shape of what these campuses have been able to accomplish. Each institution has its own story to tell, and with the inevitable shifts in student characteristics, available funding, and administrative leadership, each continues on its own evolutionary path.
The research project, which culminated in this book, started with an invitation. This invitation, sent to all chief academic officers of regionally accredited two- and four-year institutions of higher education in the United States, requested that they consider nominating their institution as an Institution of Excellence in the First College Year. The call for nominations was also posted on two electronic listservs, First-Year Experience Listserv (FYE-List) and First-Year Assessment Listserv (FYA-List). Collectively, these listservs reach over 2,000 college and university educators. Institutions that chose not to respond to the invitation were never potential candidates for selection. But 130 institutions (listed in Appendix A) did respond by sending detailed descriptions of their first-year efforts along with evidence of effectiveness. From that initial cohort of 130, we narrowed our selection to fifty-four semifinalists (listed in Appendix C) and ultimately to the thirteen finalists whose compelling stories are chronicled here.
Was this selection process simply another ranking system in disguise? The answer to this important question is a resounding no. By offering descriptions of thirteen colleges and universities that model best practice in the first year, we do not mean to imply that these institutions have been somehow compared to all others and judged to be "the best." What we can say with some assurance, however, is that the colleges and universities highlighted in this book are representative of "the best" in their varied and innovative approaches to the first year.
From the project's beginning, we recognized that excellence would have to be identified within the framework of institutional size, type, and mission. Therefore, the finalists include community colleges, private liberal arts colleges, regional comprehensive universities, and research universities, in addition to one special-purpose institution, the U.S. Military Academy. Although each campus is different, we discovered many cross-cutting themes and lessons that we develop thoroughly in the concluding chapter.
Why the Policy Center on the First Year of College Conducted This Study
The Policy Center on the First Year of College opened its doors in October 1999 with initial grant support from The Pew Charitable Trusts. As an outgrowth of the University of South Carolina's National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, the Policy Center was founded to achieve a specific mission: to promote and conduct assessment of the first year. In the Policy Center's early years of operation, staff members engaged in the development of new first-year assessment instruments and methodologies. The Policy Center also convened educators from campuses in five southeastern states to conduct qualitative evaluations of the first year and conducted two national surveys, in 2000 and 2002, to collect information about current practices in the first year. These surveys of both curricular and cocurricular life produced valuable data about the way institutions, for better or worse, are organizing and delivering the first year. But these data did not purport to define excellence.
In 2000, as we prepared proposals for additional grant funding from Pew and The Atlantic Philanthropies, we requested support to take our investigation to the next level by engaging in a systematic research process to identify those campuses that we could legitimately call Institutions of Excellence in their approach to this critical period in the undergraduate experience. We subsequently received additional support from Lumina Foundation for Education to transform the research findings into a major book, which we believe will be an important addition to the literature of the first year. While the programs and policies at these particular campuses may change in the future, the innovative ideas and lessons learned from these examples will continue to be valuable to both researchers and practitioners for years to come.
Moving the First Year from the Periphery to the Center
A second driving motivation for undertaking this research study was our intention to advance the conversation about the first year of college from the periphery to the center of the collegiate experience. Higher education's focus on the first year is a three-decades-old movement that on many campuses has become known as the "freshman" or "first-year experience." In practical terms, this focus has often been realized through a menu of innovative but piecemeal programs. The most common of these are first-year seminars, the largest proportion of which are offered as one-credit-hour courses (National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, 2002). Other programs include preterm orientation, residence life activities, campus organizations designed for first-year students, volunteer service, and various mentoring initiatives, learning communities (linked or clustered courses), Supplemental Instruction, and service-learning (the inclusion of required service in courses across the curriculum). With the exception of efforts that have an inherent link to the curriculum, many of these efforts exist at the margins of institutional life-barely connected, if at all, to student learning and vulnerable to the whims and exigencies of campus change. In his 2003 book, The Learning Paradigm College, John Tagg quotes Kay McClenney as she argues that "innovation does not equal transformation, and multiple innovations do not add up to fundamental change.... The willingness [for higher education] to allow innovation on the margins is a way of containing it, preventing it from contaminating 'core functions.' Innovation on the margins relieves pressure on the institution to create more essential change" (p. 11).
Many faculty and administrators in American colleges and universities seem to labor under the false assumption that somehow students can be prepared for the realities of college through a single programmatic initiative. Therefore, many of these efforts, although well designed and sincerely executed, serve as only an antidote for the remaining core functions of the first year. Another false assumption is that by their very nature, first-year efforts lower standards or lessen students' accountability so that more students can meet institutional requirements.
An explicit agenda for this project was therefore to identify campuses that have moved beyond the notion of the first-year experience as a patched-on, isolated program to a much broader and inclusive recognition of the first college year as a critical time period-a fundamental unit of analysis-that can serve as a meaningful platform for the undergraduate years. The project was also intended to show that first-year efforts, carefully crafted, do not lower standards but maintain high expectations coupled with support, thereby laying the foundation on which a solid collegiate education is built.
Addressing the Challenge of Defining Excellence
A third intention for the Institutions of Excellence project was to confront the challenge of defining and measuring excellence in the first year. The diversity of American higher education provides both a good reason and a convenient excuse for our collective lack of clarity about excellence. The much-maligned institutional rankings produced annually by US News & World Report have produced one template for institutional excellence that relies primarily on campus resources and "input" characteristics. These characteristics include size of endowment and amount of alumni giving, qualifications of entering students and faculty, and a number of other attributes that have little to do with what actually happens to students. Beginning in 2002, US News added additional rankings for programmatic components of the collegiate experience, including the first-year experience ("America's Best Colleges," 2002). But those rankings were created by surveying chief academic officers about their opinions or perceptions of other institutions' performance in a number of key areas, not by gathering actual documentation or evidence of excellence.
Campus educators understandably do a good bit of grousing about external rankings-unless they happen to be at the top of those rankings. But they have also been extremely resistant to working with similar institutions to create their own internal definition of excellence. The familiar argument, even among colleges and universities sharing the same objective characteristics, is that campuses, courses, students, and faculty are just too different to impose standards from one institution to another. While we agree that standards development is difficult, we also find that educators are nevertheless hungry for information about models of excellence or best practices to which they can aspire. Hardly a day goes by when we are not asked to provide either a blueprint for first-year excellence or examples of institutions that have been successful in achieving higher levels of student learning and retention. This book takes a first step toward clarifying what we mean by excellence in the first year of college by presenting thirteen case studies representing institutions of all types and sizes. We recognize the need to take this notion of defining, measuring, and recognizing first-year excellence even further, and the Policy Center is currently engaged in efforts to do just that. The Epilogue at the conclusion of this book describes an ongoing project begun in 2003 that is designed to define and measure institutional achievement of first-year standards of excellence. These standards, still in draft form in spring 2004, are being developed collaboratively by the Policy Center, Penn State University's Center for the Study of Higher Education, and more than two hundred higher education institutions in the United States.
An obvious prerequisite to implementing a recognition process of this type is the determination of criteria by which an institution's approach to the first year might be evaluated. We began this project by drawing on available scholarly literature, in addition to the collective experiences of Policy Center staff, to determine a set of common criteria by which diverse approaches to the first year could be evaluated in two-year and four-year, public and private, large and small campuses. Five criteria resulted from our lengthy deliberations and provided the yardstick by which an eighteen-member panel-Policy Center staff and thirteen external reviewers-measured the efforts of the 130 nominees:
Criterion 1: Evidence of an intentional, comprehensive approach to improving the first year that is appropriate to an institution's type and mission. Institutions of Excellence are characterized by an approach to the first year that spans the curriculum and cocurriculum. This approach is central and systemic rather than appended or patched on to the core institutional mission.
"Down with serendipity and up with intentionality!" This statement, often made in public settings by John Gardner, is at the heart of this first criterion. Throughout the history of higher education, Gardner would argue, we have relied too much on serendipity-those special chance meetings of students and faculty, or students and other students, that shape the educational experience. Through the years, we have found that serendipity is not sufficient; rather, being intentional about the way we engineer meaningful student-faculty and student-student interactions is a key to success. It is also important that campuses have a clear rationale for the first year-what the first year is intended to do that goes beyond a low-level functional purpose (for example, making money for the institution, weeding out undesirable students) to a first-year philosophy that serves as a platform for the achievement of institutional mission.
Criterion 2: Evidence of assessment of the various initiatives that constitute this approach. Institutions of Excellence are committed to an assessment process that results in data-driven continuous improvement in the first year. They should be able to report what was studied, how assessment was conducted, and how results were used.
A bird's-eye view of first-year assessment discovers some disturbing trends-first, an overwhelming focus on measuring retention and the absence of evaluation of higher-level cognitive and affective outcomes. Of course, retention is important; but we believe most educators would agree that the purpose of the first year is more than simply keeping students at the institution where they began their undergraduate journey. A 2002 national survey of the nation's chief academic officers conducted by the Policy Center discovered a second troubling trend: 31 percent of two- and four-year institutions conduct no assessment of the first year using national or regional comparative data, and another 31 percent collect data but make no meaningful use of these data. Such data tend to languish unused-a waste of institutional energy and resources. An obvious key to achieving excellence is not only conducting assessment, but also using assessment findings for institutional improvement.
Criterion 3: Broad impact on significant numbers of first-year students, including, but not limited to, special student subpopulations. First-year initiatives are characterized by high expectations and essential support for all students at all levels of academic ability.
What is a reasonable level of student participation in first-year initiatives? 100 percent? Less than 100 percent? This question has no one-size-fits-all answer. Rather, we argue that institutions should determine how they can realize maximum impact through a variety of first-year efforts and whether desired impact can be achieved if all students are not required to participate. We also maintain that a college or university's design of the first year should take into account both the special needs of students who may be underprepared or at the honors level, and the needs of students in between-those who on many campuses are considered just too average to require special attention. Our collective experience argues that all students are potentially at risk in one way or another for failing to realize maximum benefit from the first college year.
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Table of Contents
About the Authors xxvii
1 On Being Named an Institution of Excellence in the First College Year: The Process and the Places 1
2 Research Methods 19
Part One: Case Studies of Two-Year Institutions 33
3 The Community College of Denver: A Second Family for the First-Year Student 35Marc Cutright, Randy L. Swing
4 LaGuardia Community College: A Window on the World 59Betsy O. Barefoot, Michael J. Siegel
Part Two: Case Studies of Four-Year Institutions with Fewer Than 2,000 Students 85
5 The First Year at Eckerd College: Responsible Innovation 87Stephen W. Schwartz, Michael J. Siegel
6 Kalamazoo College: No Stone Left Unturned 113Stephen W. Schwartz, Randy L. Swing
Part Three: Case Studies of Four-Year Institutions with 2,000 to 5,000 Students 143
7 Drury University: Balancing Intellectual Rigor with Intrusive Personal Support in the First Year 145Charles C. Schroeder, Randy L. Swing
8 Elon University: Transforming Education Through a Community of Inquiry and Engagement 166Libby V. Morris, Randy L. Swing
9 West Point and the Plebe-Year Experience: The Long Gray Line 191Michael J. Siegel, John N. Gardner
Part Four: Case Studies of Four-Year Institutions with 5,000 to 10,000 Students 217
10 Lehman College of the City University of New York: Excellence in the Bronx 219John N. Gardner, Betsy O. Barefoot
11 The First Year at Texas A&M University– Corpus Christi: Starting with a Clean Slate 243Michael J. Siegel, Marc CutrightPart Five: Case Studies of Four-Year Institutions with 10,000 to 20,000 Students 271
12 Appalachian State University: High Standards for the First Year in North Carolina’s High Country 273John N. Gardner, Betsy O. Barefoot
13 The Story of Ball State University: “Everything Students Need” 299Randy L. Swing, Marc Cutright
Part Six: Case Studies of Four-Year Institutions with More Than 20,000 Students 323
14 Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis: Success and the City 325Marc Cutright, Michael J. Siegel
15 University of South Carolina: Creator and Standard-Bearer for the First-Year Experience 349Libby V. Morris, Marc Cutright
Part Seven: Conclusion 377
16 Findings and Recommendations 379
Epilogue: Foundations of Excellence in the First College Year 397
Appendix A: All Participants in the Institutions of Excellence Study (N = 130) 403
Appendix B: Initial Letter of Invitation to Participate in the Institutions of Excellence Project 409
Appendix C: Semifinalists 415
Appendix D: Letter to Semifinalists 419
Appendix E: Announcement Letter to Thirteen Institutions of Excellence 423
Appendix F: Research Subject Information and Consent Form 427
What People are Saying About This
"This book brings to life the theory and research on student success. The thirteen campuses profiled in this study of excellence offer example after example of structures and programs to support first-year students. From learning communities to first-year experience courses to common reading programs, orientation, and more, these authors have compiled rich descriptions of best practices into a must-read for presidents, provosts, academic administrators, student affairs professionals, faculty, and staff across institutional types." Jodi Levine Laufgraben, associate vice provost, Temple University
"Betsy Barefoot and John Gardner have been telling us for years what works for first-year students. Now they and their colleagues provide the missing link–examples of schools that actually do it well!" George D. Kuh, Chancellor's Professor of Higher Education and director, Center for Postsecondary Research, Indiana University
"In this wonderfully timely book, Barefoot, Gardner, and their colleagues do higher education a great service. They provide concrete, evidence-based examples of how a diverse array of colleges and universities are redesigning first-year experiences to meet the needs of students and promote their success. We learn again that leadership matters, that data can drive improvement, and that relentless focus and the courage to transform will win the day." Kay McClenney, director, Community College Survey of Student Engagement, University of Texas at Austin
"Achieving and Sustaining Institutional Excellence for the First Year of College is destined to become a classic, a vital handbook for every college and university which aspires to maximize the life-changing possibilities for America's first-year students." David Warren, president, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, Washington, D.C.
"At last, a book that offers research-based frameworks for first-year student success that include all types of institutions, regardless of the differences in their missions and the diversity of their students." M. Lee Upcraft, affiliate professor emeritus and assistant vice president emeritus for student affairs, Penn State University