Higher Learning Commission

Foundations of Excellence First Year Focus Implementation

Marietta College

Overview of the Quality Initiative

Marietta College has applied and been accepted for the Foundations of Excellence (FOE) First Year Focus and Foundations of Excellence Implementation for 2013-2015.

Year One: The first year of the Quality Initiative consists of the Foundations of Excellence First Year Focus. This comprehensive process encourages institutions to move away from a piecemeal approach to the first year and be more intentional in their work with new students. Fundamentally, the process is an assessment of institutional behaviors, policies, and practices. Foundations of Excellence is a comprehensive, externally guided self-study and improvement process for the first year. The centerpiece of Foundations of Excellence is a model comprised of a set of principles that are termed Foundational Dimensions®. These Dimensions, developed by the Gardner Institute, formerly the Policy Center on the First Year of College, and vetted by over 300 four and two-year institutions, guide measurement of institutional efforts and provide an aspirational model for the entirety of the beginning college experience (initial contact with students through admissions, orientation, and all curricular and co-curricular experiences). These Dimensions also provide an intellectual foundation for the entirety of the undergraduate experience.

The engine of the Foundations of Excellence process is a campus-based Steering Committee - a group with broad representation from across the campus. The work of the task force begins with a campus audit of the first year (the “Current Practices Inventory”) and continues with a nine- to twelve-month process of evaluation using the Foundational Dimensions and related performance indicators (P.I.’s), and culminates in the development of a strategic action plan for campus improvement. Institutions that participate in the Foundations of Excellence process will have access to a wide array of services and support.

Year Two: The second year of the Quality Initiative consists of the Foundations of Excellence Implement. Foundation of Excellence Implement is a year-long advisory service for institutions that want Gardner Institute staff feedback, counsel, expertise, and support as they implement an action plan derived from a completed FoE self-study process. As important as the original FoE action planning process was, this crucial outcome of the process is the actual implementation of the Plan.

Although academic advising is reported as one of our strongest areas in both NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) and the Noel-Levitz SSI (Student Satisfaction Inventory) data, both of these instruments rely upon an indirect measure of student self-reporting. We believe that the positive student response is genuine, but we also recognize that such data does not serve as a means by which we can fully assess and then seek to improve our larger program of academic advising. We also have no way to track and thus support efforts by staff to engage in positive, supportive relationships with our students. In addition, these particular instruments gather data on an institutional level, and we will, as a part of the Foundations of Excellence process, gather data that can, for instance, identify departments that are particularly successful in advising or help us draw conclusions about the relationship between high quality advising and the number of advisees carried by individual faculty. One of the imbedded goals of this initiative is to develop an evaluative instrument for advising comparable to the current course evaluation form.

We know that the strength of a Marietta College education lies in the interaction of faculty, staff, and students in the classroom, in the residence halls, and on campus. Over the years we have invested to create an environment in which this style of education will remain viable and important. “Focused on Distinction: A Plan for Marietta College 2010-2015”

Given this characterization of our larger campus community values, as expressed in our most recent strategic plan, we can imagine no effective advising program that does not consciously combine the efforts of faculty, staff, and administration in the pursuit of these larger goals. We value a holistic approach to the student, both in and out of the classroom and lab, and we encourage all members of the Marietta College community to think of themselves as educators. Thus we anticipate that one aspect of our Foundations Excellence Plan will be a focus on advising in all its diverse forms. FOE provides the framework for this Quality Initiative to be a campus-wide effort engaging faculty and staff across all departments and divisions.

Sufficiency of the Initiative’s Scope and Significance

Relevance and Significance

While our First-Year program has long been a priority at Marietta College, we have not yet had the opportunity to engage in an institution-wide process to support and coordinate these best practices and efforts. Foundations of Excellence participation over the next two years would be our opportunity to coordinate current practice, re-engage our campus, and to develop, support, and implement meaningful change for real, measureable results.

Marietta College will be seen by faculty and staff as a place where talent, creativity, and dedication thrive and are rewarded. From “Focused on Distinction—Strategic Plan for 2010- 2015”

We seek a structured program that calls for and encourages us to move towards an aspirational approach to education. We believe our faculty and staff bring both individual skills and institutional dedication, and that the intentional coordination of Foundations of Excellence will help guide to our campus towards the ongoing fulfillment of our Mission:

Marietta College provides a strong foundation for a lifetime of leadership, critical thinking, and problem solving. We achieve this mission by offering undergraduates a contemporary liberal arts education and graduate students an education grounded in advanced knowledge and professional practice. Intellectual and creative excellence defines the Marietta experience. “Marietta College Mission Statement”

By conducting a systematic self-study under the guidance of the Gardner Institute, our campus will take a candid look at its strengths and weaknesses and, based upon its findings, develop a strategic action plan that can lead to enhanced student learning and persistence. Although such a self-study is, in itself, no panacea, it is an invigorating, institution-wide experience that brings together multiple constituent viewpoints and can lead to substantive institutional change and improved student outcomes. Like nearly all institutions of higher learning, particularly among our Carnegie peers, we have financial, human resource, and physical plant-based constraints. We certainly operate in the real world, where often the costs of a college education seem far more clear than the benefits. But our commitment at Marietta College to meaningful and lasting institutional improvement is as great a priority to our community as is our fundamental, campuswide commitment to student learning and student success.

Our Retention Task force has just completed a six-month process of campus-wide discussion on retention and produced a report for the President and the Board of Trustees (including immediate, short-term, and long-term recommendations related to recruitment/enrollment, freshman to sophomore retention, and progress toward timely degree completion). We are heading into the third year of a Common Reading program that includes online discussion boards for incoming freshmen to join the conversation over the summer, faculty lecture and panel discussion during Orientation, student-led discussion groups in fall semester, and a visit from the author. Our Undergraduate Education Advisory Taskforce is well-established, as is our summer enrollment program and our Freshmen Orientation program. We are 18 months into the process of developing and implementing a curriculum-wide student learning assessment program, and we are completing our first year of data collection. Discussions with Faculty Council, the President, and Cabinet, focused our Quality Initiative on Academic Advising, Retention, and Student Success through the process of Foundations of Excellence First Year Focus and Foundations of Excellence Implement.

Intended Impact

Foundations of Excellence in the First College Year is a self study that leads institutions to be more accountable for student learning through a) the identification of common learning goals for the first year, and (b) the auditing of learning outcomes across first-year courses. The core philosophy of the self study is that setting and monitoring learning goals is an important indicator of institutional excellence.

Rather than directly testing students’ knowledge and skills, the Foundations of Excellence surveys and processes present an aspirational vision of learning that requires a campus to evaluate its success in a) establishing desired learning outcomes, b) communicating these to students, families, and other stake holders, c) documenting student learning with multiple sources of evidence that may include quantitative and qualitative measures, and d) using results to confirm effective practices or make adjustments. A critical step in achieving an institution’s larger goals for its graduates is developing benchmarks for student learning in the first year that guide institutional decisions and actions. The self study assures that institutions consider learning outcomes in a broader context of institutional improvement rather than narrowly focusing on the selection of a single test of academic knowledge.

The intended impact is the coordination of best practices and efforts to create a cohesive first year program across the college. Development of common learning goals and outcomes and the assessment of these outcomes will provide the ability to make institutional decisions that support the Core Values of the college in order to provide mission driven, high quality first year programs. As it is for many of our peer institutions, retention is a challenge for us, particularly between freshman and sophomore year—our retention from FL 2011-FL 2012 was 77.75%. Considering that nearly 90% of our operational revenue comes from students in the form of tuition, fees, room, and board, raising our retention statistics is not simply desirable but rather quite crucial to our ability to fully achieve the primary educational mission of the college. Part of implementation will be to strengthen our faculty advising model based on findings from the FOE self-study.

Clarity of the Initiative’s Purpose

Purposes and Goals

By conducting a systematic self study of our first year programs under the guidance of the Gardner Institute, our campus will take a candid look at its strengths and weaknesses and, based upon its findings, develop a strategic action plan that can lead to enhanced student learning and persistence. Specific goals include coordination of current practice, re-engagement across our campus, as we develop, support, and implement meaningful change in the first year program to enhance student success, engagement and retention.

Evaluation of Progress and Accomplishments

Foundations of Excellence provides the framework for the self-study, twelve months of intensive advisory support by a team of highly experienced professionals led by John N. Gardner of the Gardner Institute, feedback on each phase of the process and a variety of instruments for assessment and benchmarking. Foundations of Excellence also includes a process and template for producing the ultimate outcome of the process, the action plan. Year Two, Foundations of Excellence Implement provides ongoing formal access to the Gardner Institute staff’s internationally recognized student success and strategic planning expertise; a senior staff advisor assigned to the institution; written feedback on institutional quarterly reports on implementation progress; quarterly conference calls with Gardner Institute senior advisor (following report feedback); and unlimited ad hoc e-mail support. This framework and guidance provides opportunities for quarterly progress evaluation, action plan adjustments as needed and final reporting on action plan outcomes.

Evidence of Commitment to and Capacity for Accomplishing the Initiative

Internal and External Support

Significant support for participation in the Foundations of Excellence program is available from all levels of senior administration. President Joe Bruno met with Dr. John Gardner over spring break to learn more about Foundations of Excellence and returned to campus enthused for and committed to the process. (Dr. Bob Pastoor, VP of Student Life and Dr. Suzanne Walker, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, initially took the idea of participating to Dr. Bruno after attending the Academic and Student Affairs Leaders' Institute in Asheville, NC in fall of 2012.) Both Dr. Pastoor and Dr. Walker are fully committed to doing to the work necessary to see Foundations of Excellence come to fruition at Marietta College. Interim Provost Dr. Gama Perruci is supportive of the program and included participation in Foundations of Excellence as a recommendation in the Retention Task Force report which was recently presented to President Bruno on behalf of a comprehensive task force spanning all areas of the college. Incoming Provost Dr. Karyn Sproles has been apprised of our intent to apply to the program and she has enthusiastically agreed to lend her support to the success of the program. (Dr. Sproles officially begins her tenure as Provost July 1, 2013.)

FoE was vetted through the Retention Task Force who recommended participation as one of the first initiatives that the institution should undertake. The Retention Task Force was made up of individuals from faculty, staff and administration representing all divisions across campus. In addition, Faculty Council, the elected representatives of the faculty lead by the Chair of the Faculty, participated in the selection process and forwarded their recommendations to the President.

Groups and Individuals Involved in Implementation

The Foundations of Excellence process is grounded in nine "Foundational Dimensions" (areas the FoE program asks us to address, discuss, evaluate, and ultimately improve). Listed below are the nine dimension committees and the logical home for each, leading to topic-based audit, ultimately leading to nine individually focused reports.

  • Philosophy
    UEAC (Undergrad Education Advisory Committee)
    Chaired by Dr. Suzanne Walker, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education
  • Organization
    President's Cabinet
    Chaired by President Joseph Bruno
  • Learning Dimension
    Curriculum Committee
    Chaired by a tenured faculty member, includes the Registrar, Tina Purdue
  • Faculty
    Faculty Council
    Chaired by Professor Grace Johnson, Chair of the Faculty 2013-14
  • Transitions
    Office of Admission
    Chaired by Jason Turley, Dean of Admission
  • All Students
    Office of Student Life, Campus Life and Athletics
    Chaired by Ellen Campbell, Director of Retention and Student Engagement
  • Diversity
    Office of Diversity and Inclusion
    Chaired by Dr. Richard Danford, VP of Diversity and Inclusion
  • Roles and Purposes
    Provost's Council
    Chaired by Dr. Karyn Sproles, Provost and Dean of the Faculty
  • Improvement
    Assessment Committee
    Chaired by Dr. Joe Sullivan, Director of Assessment (likely assisted by Faculty Council)

Each of these Foundational Dimension committees will create a report documenting their audit. These nine evaluative reports from each committee will then be assembled into a final report by the Steering Committee that identifies where institutional performance is strongest--and weakest- -across the nine dimensions. Based on their findings, "action items" will be proposed and implemented to improve institutional performance over this two-year process. Our focus on academic advising as a campus-wide priority and our continuing efforts toward increasing retention are both imbedded in this process.

Committed Resources

Dr. Suzanne Walker, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, coordinating her efforts with Dr. Janet Bland, Assistant Dean of Accreditation, will chair the Steering Committee for the Foundations of Excellence program. Dr. Walker’s leadership will continue throughout the twoyear process. Dr. John Tynan (as former Chair of the Faculty and a former Registrar) has been asked to represent the faculty on the Steering Committee. Dr. Janet Bland, Assistant Dean, will serve on this Steering Committee as part of her overall leadership of the reaccreditation process. Dr. Greg Delemeester will also join as our Institutional Researcher. (Dr. Bland, Dr. Tynan, and Dr. Delemeester have all received varying degrees of course release and additional compensation for their leadership in this process.) Ellen Campbell has a new position, Director of Retention and Student Engagement, which was specifically designed to support this Quality Initiative with Foundations of Excellence. Other members of the Steering Committee include the chairs of the nine committees listed above, and the Registrar.

Cabinet has earmarked funds within the budget to pay for both years of the Foundations of Excellence process and in addition has developed a retention budget line to support related initiatives. Dr. Walker and Dr. Bland have also been sent to the NACADA (The Global Community for Academic Advising) Annual Conference in Oct 2012 and Advising Institute in Feb. 2013 to kick start our effort to improve advising. Along with Dr. Pastoor, Dr. Sproles, and Ms. Campbell, Dr. Walker and Dr. Bland will also be attending the Foundations of Excellence meetings in Aug. 2013, Feb. and June 2014.

As part of Foundations of Excellence the college as access to FoEtec® – an advanced technology platform. FoEtec is available to all participants and serves as a sophisticated, but user-friendly, electronic platform for recording data, internal and external communication, as well as reporting findings. Participating campuses will have a two-year license to use the FoEtec electronic platform.

Appropriateness of the Timeline for the Initiative

Marietta College has been approved for the Open Pathway, and we are currently collecting data to support our Assurances Argument. Our year-ten reaccreditation campus visit by peer reviewers will be in 2015-16. Implementing Foundations of Excellence for our Quality Initiative over the next two years coordinates not only with our institutional goals and values but also our reaccreditation schedule.

Primary Activities and Implementation Timeline

August 2013   Foundations of Excellence Launch Meeting
August 2013 - July 2014   Period of task force study and creation of strategic action plan
Sept./October 2013   Administration of web-based Faculty/Staff survey
November 2013   Administration of New Student survey
February 22, 2014   Foundations of Excellence Winter Meeting
June TBD, 2014   Foundations of Excellence Summit Meeting
July 2014 - July 2015   Foundations of Excellence Implement Year



Institution Contact

Janet Bland, Assistant Dean of Accreditation

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