Each year for the past decade, representatives of a wide range of institutions of higher education from the United States and several other countries have met at the annual conference of the National Consortium for Continuous Improvement in Higher Education to discuss innovation and improvement initiatives and share information about successes and lessons learned. This year’s conference in July 2011 recognized that the current challenges are great, but there are many ways to approach them to advance “sustainable excellence in higher education.”
AASCU’s Red Balloon Project
Keynote speaker George Mehaffy, Vice President for Academic Leadership and Change, American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), shared information about AASCU’s Red Balloon Project. The project is named after the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) Red Balloon Challenge marking the 40th anniversary of the Internet. The task was to locate 10 red weather balloons placed randomly around the United States as quickly as possible. Using technology, the balloons were located in less than nine hours.
Mehaffy pointed out that current models for funding and delivering public higher education are not sustainable as government funding for public education is decreasing and will not return to earlier levels, even though there is a call to increase the number of college graduates. AASCU’s Red Balloon Project is designed to recognize the new ways knowledge is being created, aggregated, and disseminated via technology and use that information and technology to “work together collaboratively to redesign undergraduate education”.
Overarching goals of the Red Balloon Project are to identify ways to lower educational costs (maximizing cost-effectiveness and making programs scalable), increase learning outcomes (through more effective student engagement and a rich array of instruments and assessment strategies), and respond to challenges of the new century (developing 21st century skills for 21st century learning and leadership, and rethinking teaching, learning, and faculty roles). In one initiative within the Red Balloon Project, supported by Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC), AASCU is working with the University of Central Florida to develop a model for blended learning in lower division gatekeeper courses, primarily in English and mathematics.
Using the Baldrige Organizational Profile
Julie Furst-Bowe, Provost and Vice President, University of Wisconsin - Stout, and John Dew, Senior Vice Chancellor, Troy University, shared information about how the Baldrige Organizational Profile can be used to facilitate conversation about an organization’s key characteristics, core competencies, current challenges, and strategic situation. The Organizational Profile is the first section of the Baldrige National Quality Award application, providing the context for the balance of the application. It calls for identification of the organizational environment, including educational programs and services, vision and mission, workforce profile, assets, and regulatory requirements, and organizational relationships, including structure, customers, suppliers, and partners.
Rutgers Mission Assessment, Alignment, and Planning (MAAP)
Brent Ruben, Distinguished Professor of Communication and Executive Director, University Center for Organizational Development and Leadership (ODL), and Susan Lawrence, Dean for Educational Initiatives and the Core Curriculum and an ODL Fellow, both at Rutgers University, shared information about a pilot undergraduate education assessment program, Mission Assessment, Alignment, and Planning (MAAP), at Rutgers. MAAP creates a process for integrating a cross-campus view of academic, student affairs, service, and administrative units’ contributions to the core mission of undergraduate education. It centers on six broadly-defined mission-critical goals: 1) Student Recruitment; 2) Rutgers Pride; 3) Student Engagement, Leadership, and Citizenship; 4) Learning; 5) Progress to Degree; and 6) Post-Graduation Success. Units begin the MAAP process by identifying their programs and services and entering this information on the left side of the MAAP spreadsheet. The university-wide undergraduate goals are listed in the columns across the top of the spreadsheet. Cells are then marked to indicate to what degree the goals of the unit program or service listed on the left contribute to the university goals across the top. Units can then focus on assessment of programs and services which have a strong relationship to university goals, and how they contribute to the undergraduate educational experience. The MAAP matrix shows top and mid-level leaders where connections need to be built - or enhanced - by providing a visual representation of commonalities of goals and assessment opportunities. It does this in a way that promotes a high degree of local ownership of assessment, and therefore a desire to make improvements based on assessment results.
Process Improvement Approaches and Initiatives
Several institutions are using more structured approaches such as Lean to improve processes and services. Carleton University in Ottawa used the Lean approach to engage 90% of the admissions staff in improving the processing of admissions applications. Also, through facilitated discussion, seven computing and communications services units were able to translate university-wide service excellence standards to specific service standards for each unit. The University of Washington used Lean as a tool within their Organizational Effectiveness Initiative, particularly to improve processes within their Finance and Facilities units.
There is no denying the challenges to the current model for higher education. There are many ways to approach these challenges: 1) collaboratively with pilot programs, 2) top down, such as a Baldrige analysis, 3) bottom up, such as Lean, or 4) across units, such as Rutgers’ MAAP. The key is finding the tool or approach with the best fit, based on the organizational culture and the specific project at hand.
Read the complete series of feature articles.