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Curriculum and Instruction | Higher Education


The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University are working with the Foundations of Excellence (FoE) of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education (JNGI) to develop a comprehensive First-Year Experience (FYX) as part of the SD2020 Liberal Arts for Life goal of meeting “the needs and aspirations and exceed the expectations of a 21st century student body.” The FYX is not merely a program or set of programs, but an environment that encompasses all the students’ experiences and relationships with the institutions from the time of their deposit until they return for their sophomore year.

FoE provides a way to systematically and candidly evaluate programs, policies, and procedures across departments and programs. This self-study becomes the basis for an action plan designed to improve student learning, persistence, and personal development. With the collaboration and guidance of JNGI, project leaders Karen Erickson, Emily Esch, Mary Geller, and Doug Mullin organized a working task force comprised of faculty, administrators, staff, and students from across both campuses. The task force organized into committees that evaluated CSB/SJU performance on the nine aspirational principles of excellence, termed the Foundational Dimensions® and developed recommendations to improve the experience of first-year students.

The “Dimension Committees” were aided in their evidence gathering by two surveys, one of first-year students and one of faculty and staff. These surveys ask questions about respondents perceptions of institutional performance of each dimension. We also conducted an audit of policies and practices related to all first-year students and made that information available through the Current Practices Inventory (CPI).

We entered into this study with the belief that our usual high retention rates for first-year students suggest that our institutions have been doing many things well for the students we have been serving. Our evaluation bore this out. However, we are also aware that our student demographics are changing as they become more reflective of national demographics, particularly as we draw more students each year from growing population centers which are all outside of Minnesota.