About the Center














John N. Gardner


  1. Assist in proposal development for new versions of University 401.
  2. Serve on the University 101 Academic Advisory Committee (one meeting per semester).
  3. Provide counsel to University 101 in other matters as may be deemed appropriate.
  4. Make presentations at FYE and Students in Transition conferences and teleconferences.
  5. Continue to develop new topics and authors for Center monograph series; and contribute his writing to those publications as appropriate.
  6. Be an advocate for University 101 and the Center all around the world.
  7. Continue to help bring new partners and strategic alliances to the Center.
  8. Serve as an elder statesman (for University 101, the Center, and the University, as appropriate).
  9. Serve as the corporate memory.

Biographical Sketch

John N. Gardner is an educator, university professor and administrator, author, editor, public speaker, consultant, change agent, student retention specialist, first-year students' advocate, and initiator and scholar of the American first-year and senior-year reform movements.

He serves as the President of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education and Executive Director of the Policy Center on the First Year of College. The Center, based in Brevard, N.C., was founded by John and his wife, Dr. Betsy O. Barefoot, in October 1999. The Center was launched by an initial grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, and has been subsequently funded by additional grants from Pew, The Atlantic Philanthropies, Lumina Foundation for Education, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and USA Funds. In 2007 the mission of the Center was expanded to the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education to focus on the pursuit of excellence in undergraduate education experience. The Institute works with colleges and universities to strengthen their resolve and processes to undertake assessment to improve student learning and retention. Currently, the Institute's work focuses on implementing a previously non-existent set of aspirational standards for excellence in the first year and the transfer student experience to be used both for the design of the beginning college experience and as a measurement process for effecting educational improvements. These new principles are known as “Foundational Dimensions® of Excellence. Since its inception, the Center has received approximately $7,500,000 in support from its philanthropic partners.

John is also the Senior Fellow of the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina. The National Resource Center, founded by Gardner in 1986, organizes the popular and influential conferences on The First-Year Experience, Students in Transition, and also disseminates information through an extensive series of scholarly publications, videos, national and international conferences, workshops, seminars, and teleconferences. Gardner “retired” in 1999 after 32 1/2 years of service to the people of South Carolina, but continues to serve them in a reduced and more focused way in his role of Senior Fellow (in addition to his full-time appointment in the Institute). He served as Executive Director of both the first-year seminar course, University 101, from 1974-1999, and the National Center from 1986-99. From 1983-96, he also served as Vice Chancellor/Associate Vice Provost for Regional Campuses and Continuing Education.

In his capacity with the National Resource Center, John provides advice, counsel, and intellectual leadership and vision as called upon by his colleagues in the Center. He is actively involved in hosting and presenting at Center conferences, seminars, workshops, and teleconferences. He also remains very involved, as always, in the Center's scholarship and research activities as in its monograph series and other publishing activities.

Thanks to the US Air Force, Gardner was involuntarily sent to South Carolina in 1967 where he served his active duty assignment as a psychiatric social worker in the 363rd Tactical Hospital at Shaw Air Force Base. At the request of the Air Force he became a part-time adjunct instructor for the University of South Carolina while he was on active duty. After completing his military service, Gardner held a two-year temporary appointment as Instructor of History at Winthrop College from 1968-70, and then began his full-time faculty career at USC Columbia in 1970. He taught courses in American and South Carolina history, interpersonal communications for librarians, public speaking, higher education administration, and other special topics. He also regularly taught the first-year seminar, University 101, and a special topics graduate seminar course he developed for the College of Education on "The First-Year Experience." From 1994-1998 he developed and taught University 401, Senior Capstone Experience (as a sequel to University 101, only for departing students), and this remains one of his legacies to USC about which he is most satisfied in terms of the help it offers students.

Gardner is the recipient of numerous local and national professional awards including USC's highest award for teaching excellence, the AMOCO Award for Outstanding Teaching (1975), and the Division of Student Affairs Faculty Award "for outstanding contributions......"(1976). The University of South Carolina Alumni Association conferred upon him its highest award for a non-alum, the Honorary Life Membership "for devoted service in behalf of the University" in 1997. He was also named the 1998 recipient of the University's Administrative Affirmative Action Award "for an outstanding job in promoting equal opportunities at the University." In 1999, he was the recipient of a University award created and named in his honor, "The John N. Gardner Inspirational Faculty Award" to be given henceforth to a member of the University faculty "who has made substantial contributions to the learning environment in campus residence hall life." Gardner is the recipient of ten honorary doctoral degrees recognizing him for his contributions to American higher education (from his alma mater, Marietta College, 1985; Baldwin-Wallace College, 1990; Bridgewater State College, 1991; Millikin University, 1999; Purdue University, 2000; University of Teesside, UK, 2000; Rowan University, 2001: Thiel College, 2006; Indiana University, 2008; and Clarion University of Pennsylvania, 2009.

In 1986, John was selected by the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) as one of 20 faculty in the U. S. who "... have made outstanding leadership contributions to their institutions and/or American higher education." In 1996 he was recognized by the Council of Independent Colleges with its Academic Leadership Award "for exemplary contributions to American higher education." He has served on the Board of Directors/Trustees for AAHE, the International Partnership for Service Learning, and Marietta College; and on advisory boards for The American Council on Education, The Association of American Colleges and Universities, The New York Times, and Lumina Foundation for Education. He currently serves on the board of trustees for the Brevard Music Center, the nationally acclaimed summer institute and festival. Gardner's work has been favorably reviewed in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, The Times of London, U.S. News and World Report, Money magazine, and numerous other publications. In the January 1998 issue of Change, Gardner was cited in an article naming approximately 80 people as the "past, present, and future leaders of higher education." The authors of this study drew on the results of 11,000 questionnaires to name the leaders whom The Chronicle of Higher Education dubbed "the movers and shakers." Gardner was included in a special category of eleven so called "agenda-setters." Also in 1998 Gardner was named as one of the "top ten professionals who have most influenced student affairs practitioners." This was based on a random sample of practitioners throughout the country as part of a study entitled "The Professional Influence Project" sponsored by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Foundation and conducted by The University of Georgia. In 1999 Gardner was awarded by the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) the Virginia N. Gordon Award for Excellence in the Field of Advising, to recognize his contributions towards the enhancement of academic advisement in American higher education. One of the nation's two major professional organizations for student affairs officers, The American College Personnel Association, recognized him with its highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2002.

Gardner is best known as the initiator (in 1982) of an international reform movement in higher education to call attention to and improve what he originally coined "The Freshman Year Experience" and then renamed “The First-Year Experience”. Moreover, since 1990 he has developed a special focus on a second critical transition during the college years to improve and champion: "The Senior Year Experience." In 1995, he renamed the Center he directed at USC to The National Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, to signify a broader and more generic focus on the need for institutions to focus more intentionally on "students in transition." John and his colleagues at USC are currently driving a new national discussion about another critical transition in college: the sophomore year experience with a forthcoming Jossey-Bass book on this needed topic.

In academic year, 1998-99, Gardner and his USC colleague, Dr. Betsy O. Barefoot, had the unique opportunity and privilege to participate in a research and planning process funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The focus in this project was to assess what had been accomplished to date by his USC Center to enhance the First-Year Experience, what steps were needed next to further improve this critical component of American higher education, and how could they best contribute to that process in some new and unique ways. That planning grant led to the founding of the Policy Center on the First Year of College in October of 1999. Gardner's special area of expertise in higher education was for almost three decades the creation of programs to enhance the learning, success, retention, and graduation of students in transition, especially first-year students, for example through first-year seminar courses. But more recently, since the founding of the Policy Center in 1999, his efforts have been directed almost exclusively to working with institutions to look beyond this long standing “programmatic” approach to improving the first year and instead to focus on his and the Institute's signature work, Foundations of Excellence® in the First College Year. This is a voluntary, comprehensive, externally guided self study process of the entirety of the beginning college experience (including that of transfer students) which has been engaged in by over 150 four-year and two-year colleges and universities. Gardner has served as a workshop leader or trainer in hundreds of faculty development events and has spoken on/consulted with over 500 campuses in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Denmark, and Norway on issues related to first-year and senior students.

Gardner has authored/co-authored numerous articles and books, including: College is Only the Beginning (1985 and 1989); Step by Step to College Success (1987), Your College Experience (1992,1993,1995,1996,1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 with A. Jerome Jewler and now subsequent editions also with Betsy O. Barefoot; with M. Lee Upcraft, The Freshman Year Experience (1989); Ready for The Real World (1994) with William Hartel and Associates; The Senior Year Experience, 1997, with Gretchen Van der Veer; with M. Lee upcraft and Betsy O. Barefoot, Challenging and Supporting the First-Year Student, Jossey-Bass, 2005; and, with Betsy O. Barefoot and Associates, Achieving and Sustaining Institutional Excellence for the First Year of College, Jossey-Bass, 2005.

Thanks to the generous grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Atlantic Philanthropies, Lumina Foundation for Education, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and USA Funds, his primary commitment now is to develop the potential of the Institute as his primary means of continuing on a full-time basis his crusade on behalf of enhancing the undergraduate experience.

In his life outside his work, John has one son, Jonathan David Gardner, a 33 year old graduate of Elon University; and one stepson, Wynn Corley, a 40 year old graduate of the University of South Carolina; both live in Lexington, S.C. John is married to another distinguished scholar and leader of the first-year experience reform movement, Dr. Betsy O. Barefoot. Betsy, who is the former Co-director for Research and Publications of the USC National Resource Center, currently is Vice President and Senior Scholar of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. Together they reside on a mountain top in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina, about forty miles from Asheville, and have found this to be an inspiring and conducive location from which to base their work to improve undergraduate education.

To contact John, please email him at gardner@fyfoundations.org

updated January 2011