Quality in Higher Education

Business plays an important role on fostering quality improvement efforts in higher education by transferring knowledge and expertise on quality processes and implementation practices.

Many colleges and universites have also made substantial commitments to quality efforts. However, the precentages of higher educational institutions engaged in longterm efforts to measure and improve quality have been relatively small. Between 2001 and 2008, only three higher education institutions have received the Baldrige Award. These are the University of Wisconsin-Stout, the University of Northern Colorado’s Monfort College of Business, and Richland (Community) College.

One of the early success stories at the university level of Oregon State University (OSU). Following close study of the qualtiy literature, a visit from Dr. W. Edwards Deming, company visits to Ford, Hewlett-Packard, and Dow, and attendance by the president and several top adminstrators at a seminar on problem-solving tools, adminstrators at OSU began the planning phase. The first pilot study at OSU was conducted in the physical plant area for a number of reasons: (1) quality was considered a high-priority issue; (2) it had a high probability of success; (3) management agreed that it was important; (4) no one else was working on it; and (5) it was also important to the customers of the organization. A multilevel team of 12 people chose to study the specific issue of ways of ” decrease turnaround time in the remodeling process.” The team made and implemented a number of recommendations. Among them were the development of a project manager position; installation of a customer service center to enhance work scheduling, control, and follow-up; implementation of customer surveys to assess communications; more consultation at the beginning of the process with customers; identification of equipment and materials that could be purchased during the design phase; and shop participation to identify potential problems during the design phase. The first pilot project reduced the remodeling project time by 10 percent. Using customer surveys, the team studied many other processes, such as those in recruitment and admissions. However, note that such early efforts focused on administrative systems-and not in the core processes of teaching or research.

In 1989, Xerox Corporation hosted the first Quality Forum, a gathering of academic and business leaders. Business leaders urged academia to teach quality principles and to use them in managing their organizations. Many companies established partnerships with colleges and universities. For example, Motorola’s partnership with Purdue University led to the formation of the university’s continuous quality improvement approach called Excellence21, a system-wide effort by the university to explore the principles of continuous improvement and total quality management. Projects were developed in the areas of

  1. Faculty and Staff Development and Worklife Enrichment
  2. Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes
  3. Undergraduate Education
  4. Graduate Eduation
  5. Student Related (Student services)
  6. Administrative Processes
  7. Technology

Other universities established similar partnerships with industry leaders. However, these efforts revolved around project approaches.

One example of a university that had addressed quality within its overall management system is the University of Wisconsin-Stout, the first higer-education recipient of a Baldrige Award. One of 13 publicity supported universities in the University of Wisconsin System, the University of Wisconsin -Stout, located in Menomonie, has about 1,200 faculty and staff and about 8,000 students. Operating on a $95 million annual budget, UW-Stout offers 27 undergraduate and 16 graduate degrees through three academic colleges: the College of Technology, Engineering and Management; the College of Human Development; and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Nearly half of UW- Stout’s programs are unique within the University of Wisconsin system, and several are not offered anywhere else in the United States. This distinctive array of degree offerings stems from UW-Stout’s “Mission Driven-Market Smart” focus aimed at developing students for careers in industry and education. This special mission guides all key processes, including strategic planning, program development, partnership building, and teaching and learning. In additin to its success in placing graduates in jobs and earning high satisfaction scores from students and alumni, UW-school guidance counselors. UW-Stout uses a comprehensive set of methods for listening to and learning from students throughout their academic careers and beyond. Student needs, expectations, attitudes, and performance are tracked through surveys. course and program evaluations, and a variety of ” success measures” that link student performance to educational effectiveness.

The university began conducting student satisfaction surveys in the mid-1970s. Since then, it has supplemented its efforts through participation in state and national student surveys. Survey results and other student-related information are evaluated from numerous perspectives. The university’s integrated relational database system permits almost unlimited segmentation of data. For example, student performance and satisfaction can be evaluated for standard categories, such as academic programs, diversity group, gender, or for unique segments of students. This ability supports efforts to determine the root causes of problems and to pin the relationship between processes and outcomes.

The results of these and other analyses are helping UW-Stout to sharpen its “Mission Driven-Market Smart” focus to the benefit of students and employers alike. UW-Stout seniors exceeded the national peer averages of “active” learning- traditional instruction reinforced with real-life experience- by 13 percent in 2000. Since 1996, the job placement rate for graduates has been at or above 98 percent. Moreover, alumni earn salaries that exceed the national average from other instititions and the average for gradutes from UW system schools.

Such results also lead to satisfaction. For example, more than 90 percent of graduates program alumni and almost 90 percent of undergraduate alumni say that, if they could do it all over again, they would choose to attend UW-Stout. Among employers, UW-Stout also earns consistently high marks. In the university’s five most recent follow-up surveys to learn how employers view its graduates, 99 percent to 100 percent of respondents rated UW-Stout graduates as well prepared for their positions.

One of the particular efforts to encourage colleges and universities to engage in quality practices is the Academic Quality Improvement Project (AQIP). The goals of AQIP are to help member organizations improve their performance and maximize their effectiveness; reshape the relationship with members of the Higher Learning Commission (an accreditation agency) into a partnership; and provide the public with credible quality assurance concerning higher education providers. Participation in AQIP is a voluntary alternative to traditional academic accrediation. It focuses on application of TQ principles to educational institutions to better understand their key processes, track performance, and understand students and other stakeholders; involves faculty more directly in the improvement process; and provides concrete feedback to enable institutions to raise performance levels. The criteria used for AQIP assessment are closely aligned with the Malcolm Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence that we will discuss. 

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