MC selected for national project that will establish the standard for students' first-year experiences

Sept. 30, 2003

Maryville College has been named one of 12 “Founding Institutions” selected to participate in a national project known as the “Foundations of Excellence in the First College Year.”

The project, jointly sponsored by the Policy Center on the First Year of College and the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), will develop a model of excellence for the first college year. This model can be used by small, private colleges to develop and refine their overall approach to educating new students.

Funding for the two-year project has been provided by Lumina Foundation for Education and The Atlantic Philanthropies.

The announcement of the “Founding Institutions” selection was made recently at a CIC Leadership Institute held in Asheville, N.C. Attending on behalf of Maryville College were Dr. Robert Naylor, vice president and dean of the College; Dr. Peggy Cowan, the Ralph W. Beeson Chair in Religion and coordinator of general education; Dr. Mardi Craig, associate dean and director of institutional research; Mr. Bruce Guillaume, director of Mountain Challenge and coordinator of FRS110: Perspectives on the College; and Dr. Arianne Schratter, assistant professor of psychology.

Phases I and II

Maryville College faculty and staff began extensive review of its first-year curriculum and co-curriculum following a May 2002 joint workshop of college presidents and academic deans entitled “Strengthening Accountability for the First Year of College.” Funded by the Pew Foundation and held at the Policy Center on the First Year of College, the workshop articulated a set of “best practices” for the first college year and suggested what college administrators might do to implement substantive change in the way institutions view the first-year experience.

“ The ideas put forth very much resonated with our already well-formed notion that the first-year experience ought to be framed and guided by an institutional philosophy that supports an integrated, total learning environment that quite deliberately engages students intellectually, socially, physically and spiritually,” said Naylor, who attended the May 2002 workshop with Dr. Gerald W. Gibson, Maryville College president. “Having initiated in the fall of 2002 our own reformulation of the way we think about the first-year experience, the CIC/Policy Center Foundations of Excellence project seemed a natural extension of work already begun here at the College.”

As a CIC member institution, Maryville College was asked to participate in the first phase of the project in February of 2003. Headed by Cowan, a task force of six faculty members and two staff members responded to and helped identify the Dimensions of Excellence that constitute a model first year. Of the 94 institutions that participated in Phase I throughout the winter and spring, Maryville College and 11 other colleges were selected through a competitive application process to continue on to Phase II of the project with the Policy Center and its research partner, the Center for the Study of Higher Education at The Pennsylvania State University.

In addition to Maryville, the following colleges and universities were named “Founding Institutions:” Augsburg College (Minn.), Aurora University (Ill.), Columbia College (S.C.), Endicott College (Mass.), Franklin Pierce College (N.H.), Indiana Wesleyan University, Madonna University (Mich.), Marywood University (Pa.), Nazareth College of Rochester (N.Y.), St. Edward’s University (Tex.) and University of Charleston (W.Va.).

Criteria for selection included a strong campus commitment to the first year and readiness to engage in evaluation and improvement. In addition to being the only institution in Tennessee selected for the project, Maryville College is also the only strictly undergraduate school (offering only a bachelor’s degree) represented.

Over the next 15 months, the 12 institutions will further refine and pilot use of the Dimensions. Specifically, colleges will measure their effectiveness in recruiting, admitting, housing, orienting, supporting, advising and teaching new students. They will then be able to make programmatic improvements that will increase student learning, success and persistence to graduation. The blueprint will represent the first holistic examination of the many elements that get students off to the best start.

“Ultimately, the goal for us is to have students experience this first year as a coherent foundation for their entire college education,” Cowan said. “Starting with the admissions process and continuing through advising, academic coursework and student development activities, we need to be saying the same things throughout, and what we say needs to reflect our mission – why we’re here, what we’re doing.”

First-rate first year crucial to students

Research has long indicated that new students who are successfully integrated into college are much more likely to graduate. Many colleges, therefore, work especially hard to create a first-rate first year. According to Randy Swing, co-director of the Policy Center, attention to the first year will benefit students by helping them to graduate and will benefit institutions by helping them retain students through graduation.

In describing the importance of this project, John N. Gardner, executive director of the Policy Center on the First Year of College, located in Brevard, N.C., said, “While much is known about how a campus can improve first-year learning and retention, this information has never been synthesized or translated into aspirational standards that are reflective of best practice. The absence of clear standards has powerful educational and financial consequences. This project brings together a number of highly credible researchers, reformers and practitioners who, along with their CIC partners, will create the blueprint that for too long has been missing.”

Naylor said he believes the College will contribute significantly to the project but should also learn much from the collaboration with other institutions that are equally committed to education in the liberal arts tradition.

“ Clearly for us, an important benefit lay in developing a shared vision among faculty and staff of the full range of experiences that enrich the first college year for students and connect them with the institutional mission,” the dean said.

President Gibson said he was happy to add the “Foundations of Excellence” selection to the many accolades the College has received in the past several years.

“ While this selection isn’t exactly an award for our first-year curriculum, I think by selecting us as one of 12 ‘founding institutions,’ the CIC and the Policy Center are recognizing groundwork that has already been laid in our Orientation and First-Year Seminar courses, and they are recognizing our commitment to make the first-year experience one of the most effective and positive events in a student’s life,” he said. “We are very pleased to be so recognized, and we are pleased to participate in such important national research.”

For more information, visit www.brevard.edu/fyfoundations.


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2014 semester is 1,213.