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Quality and Performance Excellence in Higher Education

Tomorrow's Academy

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The Baldrige National Quality Award program is a powerful management system because it challenges organizations to identify and recognize existing systems within their organization. Systems encompass every aspect of any organization from student recruitment to delivery of instruction, from planning to human resource management. Once systems are documented, work can begin in continuous improvement on an organization-wide scale.


The posting below looks at the impact of applying the industry based Baldrige National Quality Award program to six institutions of higher learning. It is from Chapter 8 Lessons Learned, in Quality and Performance Excellence in Higher Education, Baldrige on Campus by Charles W. Sorenson, Julie A. Furst-Bowe, and Diane M. Moen, University of Wisconsin-Stout, editors. ISBN 1-882982-80-0 Anker Publishing Company, Inc. Bolton, Massachusetts Copyright © 2005 by Anker Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academia

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As with any new quality or management system, the path is not always smooth as an organization assimilates new processes. Especially in higher education, it seems there is a need to discuss, debate, and deliberate the merits of any proposed change. And it was not different for the six institutions highlighted in this book. The Baldrige National Quality Award program criteria were questioned, the performance of award recipients was analyzed, and the rights of faculty were emphasized. Faculty and staff fell into the traditional groups of early adopters, wait-and-see, and over my dead body. As these six organizations persisted and committed to improved performance through the implementation of the Baldrige National Quality Program, eight lessons emerged.

1) Leadership: Can Passion for Quality Substitute for Leadership Commitment?

The experiences of the organizations in this book indicate leadership commitment is absolutely essential. Numerous higher educational institutions have established offices of quality and continuous improvement. Organizationally, they are located at different levels within institutions, but their purpose is singular-to improve the performance of the organization utilizing recognized tools and systems of continuous improvement. The success of these offices is checkered and is entirely dependent on the buy-in and support of individual departments and frontline leaders.

The evidence from the six institutions reflects the necessity of stable senior leadership coupled with commitment and active involvement from leaders at every level in the organization, including governance. Successful leadership means shared responsibility and accountability. It also requires reflection on the organization's leadership system-does the leadership system align with the quality values of participation, informed decision-making, and communication? The Baldrige model, applied with commitment over time, results in a leadership environment that fosters empowerment, innovation, and a shared vision among faculty, staff, and senior leaders.

2) Systems: Can Organizational Silos Be Eliminated?

The Baldrige National Quality Award program is a powerful management system because it challenges organizations to identify and recognize existing systems within their organization. Systems encompass every aspect of any organization from student recruitment to delivery of instruction, from planning to human resource management. Once systems are documented, work can begin in continuous improvement on an organization-wide scale.

Organizational silos typically prevent collaboration and communication, isolate inhabitants from the larger organization, and produce competitive tendencies. The six institutions all continue to have traditional organization structures but have found methods encompass overarching leadership teams or councils, formal team building and professional development programs, rewards and recognition aligned with the Baldrige criteria, and a methodical approach for deploying the Baldrige criteria.

3) Clarity: Who Are Our Stakeholders? What Do They Want?

For decades, higher education organizations have been generally nonchalant about addressing the needs of students and stakeholders. Many were unsure what the word contextually meant; others were sure they already knew what was best for their students. Since the 1950s, there has been tremendous growth in college enrollments, faculty, staff, and facilities. Generous funding from public and private sources has allowed for the development of new academic programs while maintaining low tuition levels. The population growth resulting from the baby boomers and most recently from the echo-boomers continues the belief within the academy that higher education must continue to be a priority for funding. With increasing enrollments and little accountability, there have been few compelling reasons for most colleges and universities to systematically determine and satisfy the needs of their students and stakeholders.

However, for many institutions, both public and private, there is an increased awareness and trepidation regarding the cost of higher education, the permanent decline in tax-dollar support, and expectations from all sectors for accountability. The six institutions studied utilize the Baldrige criteria to determine requirements, expectations, and preferences of students, stakeholders, and markets. The institutions understand the importance of developing successful relationships with students and stakeholders and continued satisfaction with programs and services in all sectors of the organization that leads to improved retention and graduation. Each of the institutions utilizes market and student data with segmentation to design and improve programs and services. These organizations are able to align programs and services with the organizational vision and mission, demonstrating the ability to avoid waste of resources.

4) Change: Just Do It, But How?

Institutions utilizing the Baldrige criteria are characterized as agile, meeting the emerging needs of stakeholders and students. While this is challenging in higher education, change is possible, and utilizing the Baldrige criteria allows change to occur rapidly. This can happen in two very different ways. First, institutions that apply to a quality award program, either at the state or national level, commit to an elevated rate of change. The feedback reports provided through these programs present opportunities for improvement, thus encouraging notable progress in each application cycle.

Second, and more important, deploying the Baldrige criteria requires a planning system that aligns actions with the organization's values, vision, and mission, ensuring responsiveness to stakeholder needs. Using the criteria requires ongoing attention to outcomes through the identification of performance indicators. And, as the six institutions demonstrated, adopting the Baldrige values of organizational learning, focusing on the future, managing for innovation, and valuing faculty, staff, and partners creates an environment of trust and openness to change.

5) Data: Why Accept the Challenge to Look Outside of Your Organization?

All institutions have data and use data-fact books, financial reports, various surveys, and other reports are common. What makes the institutions using the Baldrige criteria distinctive is their quest to utilize data trends and segments, benchmark against competitors and peers, identify best-in-class organizations, and, importantly, benchmark outside of higher education. Further, these institutions utilize this data in continuous improvement initiatives, as well as to guide planning and resource allocation decisions. '

Similar to business and industry, challenges in expanding data usage exist. Common data definitions, access to data, and appropriate use of data continue to be problematic. The six institutions suggest several benchmarking methods. * Use of national data sets and reports such as Measuring Up * Participation in commercial benchmarking studies that provide data beyond average and median * Partnerships with noneducation sector organizations to share best-in-class systems for leadership, complaint management, and safety * Utilization of increasingly sophisticated and available web data

This type of data use requires an institutional commitment to research and analysis, but the payoff is significant. Benchmarking is one of the most effective antidotes to complacency-a stigma that higher education currently carries. Business and industry clearly understands the need for reinvention and revitalization. Higher education continues to dismiss the for-profit education companies as a fad, although their growth and profit rates are spiking. Benchmarking provides every institution a tool to remain competitive.

6) Assessment: Will We Ever Be Ready to Apply for a Quality Award?

Perfectionists need not apply! The most common remark heard from organizations that have visited the University of Wisconsin-Stout is that they are reluctant to apply to an award program because too much improvement needs to take place first. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Each of the institutions in this book submitted its self-assessment application for review and scoring through a state quality award program or to the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award program. As a result, they received high-quality feedback from experience examiners and were able to use the information to move their institution to an even higher level.

The feedback reports are typically in the format of identifying areas of strengths and opportunities for improvement in each of the criteria categories. The identification of strengths validates institutional efforts and motivates organization employees to accelerate implementation efforts. The opportunities for improvement also provide motivation-to deal with a problem that has existed for years or to develop expertise in an area where a void was identified. Although each institution received some form of recognition for its efforts, the prospect of an award does not drive these institutions; instead, it is the desire for continuous improvement.

7) Strengths: Do We Need to Start From Scratch?

These stories from six institutions demonstrate six different approaches to utilizing the Baldrige criteria. The criteria are nonprescriptive and easily applied to all types of higher education institutions: public, private, for-profit, two-year, four-year, highly-selective, and open access. The Baldrige criteria indicate that the same seven-part framework can be used for the education category as is used in the business and health care categories. There is great flexibility and adaptability between types of organizations. This is good news because each institution can determine the extent and depth to initially infuse the Baldrige criteria and can build on the existing inventory of institutional strengths. Participants in the award programs clearly understand that the journey is not over once an award is received. Rather the award initiates the challenge that the institution has the ability to achieve even greater outcomes.

8) Organizational Learning: What Is in It for Me?

The six institutions convey that implementation of the Baldrige criteria or any comprehensive quality program is hard work-it requires commitment and resources. It also provides an unequaled opportunity for organizational and personal learning. Senior leaders are able to model an effective management and continuous improvement system to other employees within their organization, one that is easily emulated at all levels and applies to almost any operation. The Baldrige approach transfers from sector to sector-education to business-making partnerships and communication more effective and rewarding. Faculty can choose to integrate Baldrige criteria into classroom settings, providing graduates with one more skill set to add to their repertoire. Individuals can participate at the state or national level as examiners, providing easy access to best practices nationwide.

Looking Into the Future

"Business as usual" really means challenge and change. Whether your educational challenges are the diverse needs of your students, the Internet and alternative educational services, accreditation, school transitions, facility management, rapid innovation, performance to budget, or maintaining your competitive advantage within the education community, the Baldrige Education Criteria can help you address them.

This statement from the Baldrige National Quality Program application demonstrates the inclusiveness and effectiveness of the model. The criteria easily accommodate other quality tools already in place at an institution or provide the foundation when an institution makes a commitment to performance excellence. Indeed, a major strength of the Baldrige criteria is its comprehensive approach-something lacking in most quality system. Fully deployed, the criteria cover aspect of an institution.

As indicated by the six institutions, this comprehensive approach is a new direction for higher education and demonstrates that quality management system tools are effective in any size or type of organization. The institutions demonstrate breakthrough change-significant and steady progress toward performance goals. Further, it is believed that the Baldrige approach will penetrate higher education quickly due to its adoption by higher education boards composed in part of successful business leaders. As accreditation agencies migrate toward a forward-looking accreditation process that provides the public with credible quality assurance, the Baldrige model will become increasingly important for institutions seeking or maintaining accreditation.

The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria provide simple but effective solution to address the unprecedented challenges faced by all higher education institutions. Are you ready?