"Team Panel Discussion"

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May 2009

On May 1, 2009, Jeanie Andrews, Assistant to the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, David Gnage, Chancellor at Mont Alto, and Anna Griswold, Assistant Vice President for Undergraduate Education and Executive Director for Student Aid, gathered to share their quality improvement experiences with an attentive audience following the 2009 Quality Issues Forum. Louise Sandmeyer, Executive Director, Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, moderated the session.


Andrews talked about her quality improvement team’s effort to move the promotion and tenure process into an electronic viewing format for the 11-person University Promotion and Tenure Committee. Gnage spoke about his team’s process for identifying and implementing strategies to enhance student success and retention. Griswold spoke about the challenges involved in implementing the direct student loan program. Sandmeyer framed the discussion with the following questions.

What were the reasons for choosing this as a process for improvement? What was the scope of the problem or process?

Andrews and her team wanted to develop an electronic system that would that would better manage the logistical challenges of the promotion and tenure process once the dossiers reach the University level of review. Previously, the process involved working with 300 to 400 thousand pieces of paper a year, representing a considerable cost in time, money, and storage.Sometimes the improvement to be made or the problem to be solved is not one you go looking for, but it looks for you.

Anna Griswold
Gnage was concerned that the Mont Alto’s six-year graduation rate was below the mean for similar sized campus locations. He formed a team of faculty and staff to investigate the data, identify issues, and develop strategies to respond to this issue. In response to the changes in the student lending market, Griswold and her office knew they had to implement a direct student loan program in order for students to keep receiving needed funding with a minimum amount of difficulty.

Who knew most about how to improve the process? What was the membership of the team? Who benefits from the improvement?

Many people have benefited from the implementation of the electronic environment for the promotion and tenure materials. Andrews shared that the promotion and tenure committee members no longer need to move around heavy boxes of files. By changing the way the University Committee reviews the dossiers, the ripple effect for the colleges has been a great reduction in paper and resources required in preparing dossiers for transmission to the University-level of review given that we are no longer asking for a significant amount of paper to be transmitted by a very aggressive deadline.

Jeanie Andrews
Additionally, they can review the materials as they are uploaded to the environment instead of waiting for them to be gathered. The colleges submitting materials no longer have to copy the materials, saving a significant amount of time and money. The files no longer need to be physically stored, so the university saves on space. The satisfaction level of those that participate in this process is very high. This effort required participation from not only those on the promotion and tenure committee, but staff in the Office of Human Resources (IT staff and University Committee support staff), ITS staff, and support from the Provost’s office.

Anna GriswoldWhile Griswold believes it too soon to make a final determination of the value of the direct student loan program, feedback has been very positive so far. Staff members no longer need to work with assorted lenders and guarantors and see the new process as more efficient. Students understand the process more readily, and most importantly, have not experienced any interruptions in receiving their funds. The university benefits financially from receiving all the funds in a few transmissions, all roughly at the same time, and being able to assure parents that their children will continue to receive their loans. This significant change required support and collaboration from the administration and several staff persons in AIS and the Office of the Bursar.

Regarding the efforts of Gnage’s team, students and their families benefit most directly. They spend a lot of money to attend Mont Alto, and every effort should be made to keep them on track toward completion. Success at doing this creates positive word-of-mouth, which benefits the campus. Developing strategies to enroll more students and keep students enrolled requires working with faculty, staff, community members, and anyone else who has a stake in student success.

What were the initial steps and what data were collected and used?

Andrews and her team mostly relied on preference data from those that participated in the old process to help guide the design of the new system used by the University Promotion and Tenure Committee. There was a consensus that the old process was cumbersome and needed to be overhauled. This resulted in a very successful pilot project since those using the system had direct input.

Gnage and his team looked at six-year graduation rates, courses with low completion rates, and first to second year retention data for various cohorts at Mont Alto. We brought together people from different departments to develop a definition of student success, get that adopted by the campus in general, and began to look at particular offices and how those offices were serving students and look for ways to improve services to students, or improve academic programming.

David Gnage
They also spoke to faculty and student leadership about student expectations and student support offices about needed services. The task force developed a statement of student learning outcomes that was adopted by the campus community. A series of stakeholder discussions directly informed the development of new strategies based on both the data and the expertise of those that directly serve students.

Griswold and her team are currently analyzing data from the direct student loan program to determine just how much more efficient it is than the older programs. During the initial implementation, it was necessary to track students to make sure they had completed all necessary paperwork.

What were the results and how were they implemented?

Jeanie AndrewsRegarding managing tenure dossiers in electronic form, Andrews explained that participants in the process have benefited from greater flexibility. The material can be loaded and accessed more easily and no physical product needs to be managed. This saves time, money, and space.

Gnage and his team have already seen several of the strategies enacted. Difficult classes have received increased support. Three new full-time faculty members and a full-time retention specialist were hired. Student support services have been reorganized to better work together. More co-curricular activities have been implemented.

David GnageThe first use of the direct student loan program was for the summer 2008 semester. It was deployed successfully then and continues to work well each semester, with an improvement in the speed of service and fewer errors. Students understand the process better, and the staff members in Student Aid see it as more efficient.

What’s next? What’s the timeframe?

Andrews shared that they are currently looking at moving to full automation of faculty activity reporting, which will include, as an output,  the promotion and tenure data pulled together to create the dossiers. This is a long-term University goal, and the Provost’s Office is working with ITS as the initiative requires working with each college to determine what data needs to be collected. Griswold and her team are currently in the second phase of implementation, which involves going back and revisiting some functions that could not be addressed fully in the beginning of the process. Additionally, certain regulatory changes need to be implemented in the system. Gnage shared that his committee has recruited additional volunteers to serve on subcommittees that will assess the progress of the implemented strategies and help develop new strategies over time.

Throughout the session, members of the audience asked several questions about the difficulties involved in implementing these changes. The panelists stressed the importance of getting a good handle on the data and being open to input from stakeholders. The more people participate in the process, the more likely they are to make the necessary changes.

The Quality Advocates Network meets several times each semester to share ideas and examples of improvement and change. To join the Quality Advocates Network mailing list or to learn more about the meetings scheduled, contact the staff at psupia@psu.edu.

The Quality Advocates Network is open to all Penn State faculty, staff, administrators, and students.