Foundational Skills Innovation Spotlight: Pfeiffer University

In this series, we highlight exceptional responses we’ve seen on the part of higher education institutions to the many challenges endemic to America’s foundational skills crisis. This month we profiled Pfeiffer University in North Carolina, where leadership improved student motivation and buy-in through a commitment to cultivating student intentionality and foundational skill development.

Key Player: Dr. Tracy Espy, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Dr. Espy has been with Pfeiffer since 2008, and during that time she’s worked to develop a student-facing workflow that makes it possible to link foundational skills directly to career applications. This culminates in the schools “Pfeiffer Life”, a campus-wide, 4-year program for preparing students for life and career after college.

The Challenge: Adding Intentionality to the Entire Student Experience

Helping students build intentionality around foundational skills leads to greater buy-in and increased motivation. Unfortunately, very few schools explicitly make intentionality a priority from orientation to graduation. Only 4 in 10 campuses have dedicated courses or learning experiences in the freshman year that teach students the value of foundational skills to college, career, and life success. Just 7% of campuses have a career skills journey that follows up upon freshman onboarding in the second year, major, or career-related experiences.

The Innovation: Broadening the Reach of Foundational Skills Development to Every Corner of the Campus

Pfeiffer became one of the rare 4% of institutions at the Employer Signaling stage of the Foundational Skills Development Chart through the leadership of Dr. Espy. In her decade with Pfeiffer, she’s created a new model of co-curricular programming, which integrates foundational skills across Gen Ed, disciplines, residence life, religious life, and career services. Shared rubrics consistently track core skills inside and out of the classroom. A system linked to an e-portfolio also allows students to earn badges in core skills across all learning experiences.

Here’s what this looks like over the course of the Pfeiffer Journey:

    • First Year: Students receive a booklet on the Pfeiffer Life at the start of a two-semester first year experience program. The booklet and FYE course speak to communication, collaboration, information fluency, critical thinking, and skills sought by employers.
    • Sophomore year: Students begin year with a retreat where they complete a “learning skills” assessment on their strengths, gaps, and next steps.
    • Junior year: Students map out all curricular and co-curricular learning experiences as they become more major and career focused.
    • Senior year: Completion of the e-portfolio turns and workshops around resume-building, interview skills, and grad school applications, in a mentored-learning environment, help students cross the finish line to graduation fully prepared for whatever comes next.