How are you ensuring your students’ success in their first college year?

The first year of college can be a make or break for many students, and as an institution, you have the power to shape their entire experience. The Academy on The First College Year is here to help you do just that. Our team of experts draws on data, scholarship and years of experience to provide you with an evidence-based learning experience that will allow you to develop a plan aimed at improving and transforming your first year students’ experience.
With our four-week Academy, you’ll gain valuable insight into what makes the first college year successful and what you can do to improve it. You’ll learn about different theories, policies and practices surrounding student success in the first year of college. You’ll also conduct an institutional audit and develop a plan using data aimed at improving the experience of students in their first college year.
Apply for the Academy today and take the first step towards shaping your students’ future success. With our evidence-based learning and data-driven approach, you’ll be able to ensure every student can succeed in their first year of college.

Who Should Participate

  • Two Year and Four Year Institutions
  • Public and Private Institutions
  • Institutions wanting to refresh a first year program
  • Institutions wanting to create a first year program
  • Any institution focused on improving the first college year for all students.

How You’ll Benefit

  • Gain insight and feedback from the Gardner team and other institutions in the Academy.
  • Understand and plan for the diversity of your first-year students and the differential impacts (e.g., equity gaps) seen across systems of higher education and at your institution.
  • Apply the outcomes of an institutional audit of your first-year policies, practices, and programs.
  • Be prepared to start and lead the redesign of the first-year students’ experience at your institution.

Engage your institutional team in an exploration of the foundational aspects of student success in the first college year.

The academy draws from a broad array of research and practice-based literature, interactions with notable scholars specializing in the first college year, and various data sources, participants will conduct an institutional audit and begin to develop a plan aimed at improving the experience of students in the first college year.

Applications for the Fall Cohort are due October 7, 2024

Key Features

Drawing from over forty years of experience, the Gardner Institute has tapped the considerable knowledge of our founders, John N. Gardner and Betsy Barefootand our CEO Drew KochTheir wisdom is further augmented by our facilitators: Brent Drake, Stephanie FooteSara Stein Koch, and Felita Williams, all of whom bring with them a wealth of scholarly and practical knowledge.

The Academy draws on your institution’s publicly available Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS) data to help institutional teams see disaggregated outcomes for their students.

Data is provided in easy-to-read visualizations that are specifically constructed for this academy. The visualizations powerfully highlight differences and guide institutional teams toward action.

Institutional teams will also receive data visualizations that allow them to compare their own outcomes to those of institutions that have a similar admissions, enrollment, and endowment profile.

Institutional teams will complete an audit of policies, practices, and programs available on their campus targeted at first-year student success.  They will focus on the diversity of your first-year students and the differential impacts (e.g., equity gaps) seen across systems of higher education and at your institution.

At the end of the Academy, your team will be prepared and committed to the development of a plan to improve the experience of students in the first college year.

Empower Your Students to Succeed with Our Evidence-Based Learning Approach.


Fees are based on undergraduate enrollment as determined by College Navigator. Fees are assessed per institution, not per individual participant.

Undergraduate Enrollment:

  • Up to 2,000 undergraduates          $5,800
  • 2,001- 5,000 undergraduates         $7,100    
  • 5,001-10,000 undergraduates        $9,000
  • 10,001-15,000 undergraduates      $11,100
  • 15,000 +undergraduates                $13,200

Help your first-year students become your second year students.

Frequently Asked Questions

Applications are currently being accepted for Spring 2024 cohort. You can apply at this link.

Applicants are accepted on a first come, first served basis; subject to approval. Early registration is recommended. Spring 2024 Cohort Applications are due by March 29, 2024

Institutional teams should consists of at least three people, from the following areas:

  • Academics Affairs
  • Admissions
  • Advising
  • First Year Program 
  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 
  • Institutional Research 
  • Faculty Leaders, especially those teaching first-year seminars or high enrollment first year courses
  • Re-Accreditation Teams
  • Student Affairs
  • Student Success
  • Students
  • Title III Teams

Your institution has the option to create a team or utilize an existing team or committee. The individuals will vary by institution, a successful team is one most likely to design and create an equity-focused retention process at your institution.

The synchronous meetings 

Module 1 – April 11 at 1 p.m. ET, 
Module 2 – April 18 at 1 p.m. ET, 
Module 3 – April 25 at 1 p.m. ET, 
Module 4 – May 2 at 1 p.m. ET

Depending on the size of your team and how the work is divided we estimate approximately 3 -5 hours per week for the 4 week Academy.

We recommend a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 8.  We can accommodate a larger team.

Module topics 

  • Module 0: Start Here 

  • Module 1: How well do you know Your First-Year students?

  • Module 2: What does the first year academic experience look like? 

  • Module 3: How do you create a supportive, inclusive, and responsive environment?

  • Module 4: What happens after the first year?  

You will receive an application confirmation email within 1 week of applying. An agreement will be sent to the person designated in the application. Once the agreement has been signed you will receive further information from the Academy facilitators. Please contact with any questions.

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