McMurry University to Participate in National Higher Education Project

  Gary Ellison
  Thursday, September 4, 2014 7:41 AM

Abilene, TX

McMurry University has partnered with the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education for their Foundations of Excellence Program. A kickoff launch to introduce the program to campus is set for noon Friday, Sept. 5, in the Garrison Campus Center.

The Foundations of Excellence program closely studies the first year experience for both freshmen and transfer students to create a more positive experience for future incoming students, thereby increasing retention rates and building up the student body of the university, said Dean of Students Vanessa Roberts Bryan, who is spearheading the effort.

“McMurry University President Dr. Sandra Harper participated in the first Foundations of Excellence program while she was at Texas A&M Corpus Christi,” said Roberts Bryan.

Research has long indicated that the successful integration of new students into college greatly increases the likelihood of their academic success, said Roberts Bryan. As a result, institutions of higher education place particular emphasis on creating a first-year experience that establishes a solid foundation of success in college and beyond.

Foundations of Excellence focuses on nine specific principles in determining the improvements to be made. The Gardner Institute works in conjunction with McMurry to put together committees comprised of professors, staff members from various departments as well as students. These committees are assigned a different area of study, encompassing everything from student transitions, overall learning, diversity, and educational philosophies. It is then up to the committees to study student surveys and data, coming to conclusions and making recommendations based off of the available information.

The Gardner Institute’s work doesn’t end at the end of this year when the committees have given their final reports, said Roberts Bryan. Consultants from Foundations of Excellence will be helping McMurry go forward in successfully implementing the new ideas on campus. While a premium is placed on improving the academics for first year students, the Gardner Institute will also help implement changes for the campus as a whole, including student life and activities.

Once the study has been completed and the committees have given their recommendations, the university will work on including these improvements for implementation in the next year’s budget.

The study also includes other aspects of the student experience, like campus life and student engagement. Improvements like these could go far in retaining new students, making them feel at home in the McMurry and Abilene communities, said Roberts Bryan.

Regardless of the conclusions the Foundations of Excellence committees come to, students can expect a number of changes to the student experience within the next few years, said Roberts Bryan. “With the help of the Gardner Institute, the university intends to further enhance the experience of all students as they enter the McMurry community, better enabling students to grow as leaders.”

Background Information:

During the coming year, McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, will participate in a national higher education project known as “Foundations of Excellence®.” The project, sponsored by the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, will utilize a model of excellence for the first college year experience. This model can be used by colleges and universities to develop and refine their overall approach to educating first-year students.
Research has long indicated that new students who are successfully integrated into college are much more likely to succeed. Many colleges, therefore, work especially hard to create a first-rate experience for new students. 

Since February of 2003, the Foundations of Excellence project has involved hundreds of two- and four-year colleges and universities across the country in developing the standards (“Foundational Dimensions®”) that constitute a model first year. McMurry will work with the Gardner Institute in the 2014-15 academic year. Member institutions will measure their effectiveness in recruiting, admitting, orienting, supporting, advising, and teaching new students. They will then be able to make programmatic improvements that will increase student learning, success, and persistence. 

In describing the importance of this project, John N. Gardner, President of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, said, “While much is known about how a campus can improve new student 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 are creating the blueprint that for too long has been missing.”

Betsy Barefoot, Vice President and Senior Scholar, adds that the standards are not only aspirational, but they can also be used to measure an institution’s current level of excellence in its approach to the first year.

Additional information about the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education and this project can be found at

Press Contact

Gary Ellison