Gardner Institute – Four-Year College Version
Foundational Dimensions is a model that provides institutions with a means to evaluate and improve the first year of college. As an evaluation tool, the model enables institutions both to confirm their strengths and to recognize the needs for improvement. As an aspirational model, the Foundational Dimensions provide general guidelines for an intentional design of the first year.
The Foundational Dimensions rest on four assumptions:
- The academic mission of an institution is preeminent.
- The first college year is central to the achievement of an institution's mission and lays the foundation on which undergraduate education is built.
- Systematic evidence provides validation of the Foundational Dimensions.
- Collectively, the Foundation Dimensions constitute an ideal for improving not only the first college year, but also the entire undergraduate experience.
PHILOSOPHY/RATIONALE – approach the first year in ways that are intentional and based on a philosophy/rationale of the first year that informs relevant institutional policies and practices.
The philosophy/rationale is explicit, clear and easily understood, consistent with the institutional mission, widely disseminated, and, as appropriate, reflects a consensus of campus constituencies. The philosophy/rationale is also the basis for first-year organizational policies, practices, structures, leadership, department/unit philosophies and resource allocation.
ORGANIZATION – create organizational structures and policies that provide a comprehensive, integrated and coordinated approach to the first year.
Structures and policies provide oversight and alignment of all first-year efforts. A coherent first-year experience is realized and maintained through effective partnerships among academic affairs, student affairs and other administrative units and is enhanced by ongoing faculty and staff development activities and appropriate budgetary arrangements.
LEARNING – deliver intentional curricular and co-curricular learning experiences that engage students in order to develop knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors consistent with the desired outcomes of higher education and the institution's philosophy and mission.
Learning (both inside and outside of the classroom) must promote increased competencies in critical thinking, ethical development and in the lifelong pursuit of knowledge.
FACULTY – make the first college year a high priority for faculty.
Successful institutions are characterized by a culture of faculty responsibility for the first year that is realized through high-quality instruction in first-year classes and substantial interaction between faculty and first-year students both inside and outside the classroom. This culture of responsibility is nurtured by chief academic officers, deans and department chairs and supported by the institutions' reward systems.
TRANSITIONS – facilitate appropriate student transitions through policies and practices that are intentional and aligned with institutional mission.
Beginning with recruitment and admissions and continuing through the first year, the institution must communicate clear curricular and co-curricular expectations and provide appropriate support for educational success. The university must be forthright about its responsibilities to students as well as students' responsibilities to themselves and the institution. The university must create and maintain curricular alignments with secondary schools and linkages with secondary school personnel, families and other sources of support, as appropriate.
ALL STUDENTS – serve all first-year students according to their varied needs.
The process of anticipating, diagnosing and addressing needs is ongoing and is subject to assessment and adjustment throughout the first year. The institution must provide services with respect for the students' abilities, backgrounds, interests and experiences; and ensure a campus environment that is inclusive and safe for all students.
DIVERSITY – ensure that all first-year students experience diverse ideas, worldviews and cultures as a means of enhancing their learning and preparing them to become members of pluralistic communities.
The institutions must structure experiences in which students interact in an open and civil community with people from backgrounds and cultures different from their own, reflect on ideas and values different from those they currently hold, and explore their own cultures and the cultures of others.
ROLES and PURPOSES – promote student understanding of the various roles and purposes of higher education, both for the individual and society.
The roles and purposes of higher education include knowledge acquisition for personal growth, learning to prepare for future employment, learning to become engaged citizens and learning to serve the public good. Institutions must encourage first-year students to examine systematically their motivation and goals with regard to higher education in general and to their own college or university. Students must also be exposed to the value of general education as well as to the value of more focused, in-depth study of a field knowledge (specifically, through the major).
IMPROVEMENT – conduct assessment and maintain associations with other institutions and relevant professional organizations in order to achieve ongoing first-year improvement.
Assessment must be specific to the first year as a unit of analysis – a distinct time period and set of experiences, academic and otherwise, in the lives of students. It is must be linked systemically to the institutions' overall assessment strategy. Assessment results are an integral part of institutional planning, resource allocation, decision-making and ongoing improvement of programs and policies as they affect first-year students. As part of the enhancement process and as a way to achieve ongoing improvement, institutions must be familiar with current practices at other institutions as well as with research and scholarship on the first college year.