Total Quality In Academia

This week I attended a presentation on Total Quality Management. The presenter took the journey down the path of collecting data, analyzing it, and then presenting the data for the viewing pleasure of all. As I watched the first thing I wanted to do was discount the data. That is always the first inclination, to distrust the data. The second reaction is to say, well this doesn’t take into consideration this, or the person didn’t know about that. I want to rationalize what the data is saying to me. You see, we never want to say the Emperor has no clothes. We want to stay on the bandwagon and not think we could possibly be in trouble.

So, I grabbed the handouts and began to work my way through the information that was provided by the presenter, which looked at Total Quality Management as applied to the Academic Environment. The article that caught my attention was from the American Society For Quality. The title of the article, “Business School Improves Learning, Research, and Placement Measures With TQM.” This was a case study looking at a graduate school in India. This school, RIMS, was “faced with troubling research concluding that most MBA’s in India were unemployable and not industry ready due to quality gaps in education.” The school analyzed its position relative to its competitors and found deficiencies in three areas: assurance of learning, faculty research productivity, and quality of employment placement for graduates.”

I have been thinking about quality for many years. I began my career in aerospace as an inspector in 1973. I worked for a couple of different companies in California, until 1977 when I went to work for Boeing. I began my career there as a Quality Inspector, then went into Statistical Process Control, evolving into a Quality Auditor, then a production manager, then a Quality Improvement Manager, then a Quality Manager, and finally a Project Manager responsible for Quality Training. Over 40 years of being involved with quality has given me a love for the subject.

In relation to the Business program at the school where I teach, I have been thinking about quality over the last four years. Accrediting bodies for Business schools are in place to help programs improve the level of quality in the programs. ACSB, ACBSP, and IACBE are in place to help programs improve while providing the education needed for business students to be successful.

The question I am asking myself this morning involves the quality of the business program at my school, and do the three dimensions identified by RIMS apply to us? I think they do. Assurance of Learning, Research Productivity, and Quality of Placements being the three areas of concern, the question is how do we deal with this? How do we measure this? How do we improve this?

RIMS identified 10 quality dimensions needing to be addressed:

  1. Admission criteria
  2. Academically-Qualified (AQ) faculty
  3. Research productivity
  4. Industry Interaction
  5. Student feedback on faculty
  6. Recruiter acceptance of students on first opportunity
  7. Mean salary
  8. Return On Investment (our graduating students average compensation as compared to others)
  9. Overall student satisfaction
  10. Overall recruiter satisfaction

The article then describes how statistical tools were used to improve the processes. By using an Ishikawa diagram the team was able to identify root causes associated with the poor performance of the program. The team then created and analyzed possible solutions, and then selected the final solutions they would use to improve the academic processes. The team identified improving teaching quality, improved compensation, subsidized training, implement the 4-P system for evaluating students, and administering a Capstone test to ensure students are learning.

Hmm, very very interesting. I think our school has already accomplished several of the elements identified by RIMS. But I think we as a program, need to look at this and not dismiss the other parts of the identified actions.

I now have a new focus for our business program. Now it is time to get to work. How satisfied are our students with our programs? Are they learning what they need to learn and what we expect them to learn? Are our faculty teaching well? I wish I were 40 years old and had more time. It is time to roll up our sleeves and do what is needed to improve. TQM is a great tool, and it is time to use it.

And that is my thought for the day!

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