Improving Quality Program at Southwestern College
During the 2002-2003 academic year, the faculty, staff, administration, trustees, and key community and alumni volunteers engaged in a series of evaluative and planning activities related to quality improvement at Southwestern College. Some of these activities were undertaken as part of the college’s regular planning and performance review effort. Other activities were undertaken as a means of preparing the college to participate in the Higher Learning Commission’s Academic Quality Improvement Program.
The centerpiece of this year of evaluation was a self-assessment based on the Baldrige criteria for education. The results of the self-assessment reflected real strengths and real weaknesses in the college’s approach to providing an education of high quality. Key findings included:
- The college’s effort in the area of performance planning, performance evaluation, workforce training and development, and deployment of institutional plans and objectives throughout the college’s workforce was judged to be weak and lacking focus.
- While the college was able to demonstrate significant efforts to understand and respond to the needs of students and other stakeholders, Southwestern had not completed a systematic inventory of stakeholders, their needs and requirements, and assigned responsibility to key administrators and faculty members for meeting those requirements.
- The college had not developed and effectively employed performance measures below the enterprise level to guide evaluation and improvement efforts.
- While the college had expended great effort in the realm of academic outcomes assessment, these efforts had not often generated information that led to action for improvement of learning outcomes.
Southwestern applied to participate in AQIP in 2003 with these findings in mind. In April of 2003 college president Dick Merriman and academic vice president Andy Sheppard participated in an AQIP leadership training program. In the fall of 2003 the college sent a team, including administrators, a member of the faculty, and the chair of the college’s board of trustees to participate in a Strategy Forum. Four Action Projects, focused on financial outcomes, human resources, outcomes assessment, and retention were subsequently initiated, and the college submitted annual updates until retiring all four projects in the fall of 2007.
The college submitted its first Systems Portfolio in fall 2007. A college team, including administrators, a member of the faculty, and the chair of the college’s board of trustees, participated in the college’s second Strategy Forum in November 2007. Following the Strategy Forum the college initiated new Action Projects focused on retention, outcomes assessment, and information technology. The college also undertook projects to strengthen its performance in the categories of Helping Students Learn, and Understanding Students’ and Other Stakeholders’ Needs. The college has also undertaken quality infrastructure projects designed to infuse quality improvement principles into the college’s strategic planning process and its performance evaluation process.
Leadership for Southwestern’s participation in AQIP has been provided by the college’s president and its Administrative Council, a group of nine senior administrators who meet weekly as a group and one on one with the president. Member of the Administrative Council, in turn, have involved faculty and administrators in the AQIP project.
The college’s AQIP project began with a college-wide event, Improvement Day, that involved all the college’s employees in documenting and celebrating the hundreds of steps taken each year to improve the college and its programs. Improvement Day also provided a forum for discussion of the college’s first round of Action Projects.
Almost 75 college employees, about half administrators and half faculty members, participated in writing multiple drafts of the college’s Systems Portfolio. Small teams, usually of four or five employees, have provided leadership for Action Plans. Teams of similar size will be working on projects designed to strengthen the college’s performance in key categories of the Systems Portfolio and to strengthen the college’s quality infrastructure. It is expected that about 75 individuals will be working, over the next three years, on improvement efforts related to various AQIP categories.
The college has tried, whenever possible, to do the “work” of AQIP through existing committee, structures, and processes. However, the process focus of AQIP has prompted the creation of many ad hoc teams that work across division and unit lines.