ERIC Identifier: ED353008
Publication Date: 1984-07-00
Author: Not Listed
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los
Quality Circles in the Community College. ERIC Digest.
Community colleges today face the challenge of providing quality
education under tight budgetary constraints. A tool that may help community
colleges meet this challenge is the quality circle, a management technique
borrowed from Japanese industry that is now gaining popularity among American
managers. This ERIC Digest draws from the ERIC literature to examine the
characteristics of quality circles and to describe actual examples of the use of
quality circles at community colleges.
WHAT IS A QUALITY CIRCLE?
A quality circle consists of a small group of people who perform the same
jobs or tasks. This group meets voluntarily, on a regular basis, to discuss
problems, seek solutions, and cooperate with management in the implementation of
those solutions. Quality circles operate on the principle that employee
participation in decision-making and problem-solving improves the quality of
work. Through the circle, members generate mutual respect and trust as they work
on solutions to common, on-the-job problems.
A review of the literature shows that quality circles have several defining
characteristics (see References). First, participation in a quality circle is
strictly voluntary. Second, members of the circles set their own rules and
priorities and select the problems that are to be discussed. Third, decisions
are made by consensus; open communication is encouraged and negative criticism
is discouraged. Finally, quality circles utilize organized approaches to
problem-solving, including brain-storming and cause-and-effect diagramming;
persons who act as circle leaders need to be familiar with these and other
participative management techniques. Ideally, then, quality circles are not
hampered by members who are not personally committed to the process; in
addition, the organized approach to problem solving prevents quality circles
from holding unproductive rap sessions.
HOW ARE QUALITY CIRCLES UTILIZED?
Quality circles in industry have been known to increase productivity, improve
quality, boost employee morale, and serve as a human resource development tool;
these same benefits may be accrued in education. In fact, quality circles in
community colleges have been used to solve problems in administrative
developments (Ladwig, 1983; Moretz, 1983), and in student support services
(Ladwig, 1983; Cohen, 1983). Examples of quality circle applications at the
community college are described below.
CENTRAL PIEDMONT COMMUNITY COLLEGE. As part of a campus-wide effort to
incorporate quality circles in college operations, Central Piedmont Community
College (NC) established a quality circle at one of its off-campus learning
centers. The circle, composed of the director and volunteer staff members, used
brainstorming to develop a list of goals for the center, rank ordered those
goals by priority on a decision grid, and drew cause-and-effect diagrams to
determine why those goals aren't always met. In the course of this analysis, the
quality circle participants determined that a better telephone system was needed
to help the center achieve its objectives. Circle members listed the ways in
which the telephone system undermined the center's efficiency, kept a log sheet
for a month to document the occurrences and nature of those telephone problems,
and developed recommendations for changes in telephone equipment and
configuration. The quality circle not only solved the telephone problem, but
also produced a net savings in staff time of about $100 per month. Moretz (1983)
details the accomplishments of this quality circle and reviews the
administrative procedures used by Central Piedmont Community College to
implement quality circles in all aspects of campus management.
MIDDLESEX COUNTY COLLEGE. Middlesex County College (NJ) turned to quality
circles in an attempt to improve the cost efficiency of Project COPS (Career
Oriented Peer Services), a peer tutoring program that matches second-year tutors
with high-risk, first-year students. Quality circles were deemed an inexpensive
way to increase tutoring effectiveness and to help student tutors prepare for
the world of employment. Two peer-tutor quality circles were established: one
composed of peer-tutors from business-oriented disciplines, and one composed of
peer tutors from the engineering program. The business-oriented circle focused
on the overdependence of tutees on the peer tutoring staff; recommended
solutions included a stronger emphasis on tutee note-taking, time management,
attendance and other factors that are central to a student's self-reliance. The
engineering-oriented circle concentrated upon improving campus awareness of the
peer tutoring center through utilization of faculty announcements, student
clubs, faculty advisors, and other means. Cohen (1983) provides further
LAKESHORE TECHNICAL INSTITUTE (LTI). The LTI Board of Education implemented a
campus-wide quality circle project, because faculty, management, and support
staff expressed a desire to improve work efficiency and to become more involved
in campus decision-making processes. Two types of quality circles were
implemented: management circles, composed of administrators, program
supervisors, program coordinators and educational specialists, and nonmanagement
circles, composed of faculty and support service staff. Each circle met to
identify problems and to find solutions. Among other accomplishments, the
management circles developed an idea/suggestion memo system, intramural sporting
events for LTI staff, guidelines for recognizing staff service, and a "who's
who/what's what" recognition program. The nonmanagement quality circles
recommended the development of a computerized information system to assist
faculty in record-keeping, work processing, and grading. Overall, the response
to the quality circles project at LTI was favorable. Improvements in employee
attitudes, the quality of instructional and support services, and the work
environment itself were seen as the result of the project. Ladwig (1983)
provides an indepth analysis of the project.
HOW ARE QUALITY CIRCLES USED IN THE CLASSROOM?
Although quality circles have their roots in industry, quality circles have a
promise as a pedagogical tool that makes students responsible for their own
learning and increases class participation. Two such applications are described
in the literature, one at Valley Forge Military Junior College (Murray) and the
other at the Pennsylvania State University (Hirshfield). Murray (1983) describes
a quality circle made up of 12 students in an American History survey course.
These students studied the purpose and operation of quality circles and used the
quality circle method to determine the type and frequency of written
assignments, the content of lectures, and the testing methods to be used. The
students took a serious interest in managing the class and, in fact, opted for
rigorous assignments. Among other decisions, for example, the quality circle
decided to reduce the time devoted to lectures, to increase the time available
for discussion, to change the location of the class to facilitate discussions,
and to use essay exams for grading. Murray feels that the students moved toward
"a firmer, more scholarly approach" (p. 7). In addition, class participation
increased from about 30 to 75 percent.
In a similar undertaking Hirshfield (1983) selected eight students from a
large class in an East Asia history class to form a quality circle. Again, the
decisions made by the quality circle members altered the course structure and
content. Among other actions, the quality circle implemented the use of a daily
outline, increased student participation in the selection of poetry and films
used in the class, and urged the use of contemporary analysis to illustrate the
use of course material to modern-day problems. After two years of experimenting
with quality circles in the classroom, Hirshfield feels confident that they are
a valuable academic tool; quality circles increase student familiarity with
course material and provide students with valuable experience in decision making
and problem solving. Both Hirshfield and Murray note that quality circles imbue
students with a greater sense of purpose in the classroom and provide students
with an enhanced sense of self-worth.
WHAT ARE SOME PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH QUALITY CIRCLES?
The number one reason for quality circle failure is inadequate training. A
lack of understanding quality circle technique may cause management to be
reluctant to initiate circles, act upon circle suggestions or, eager for easy
solutions, may implement quality circles too quickly. Circle members may be
unsure of their purpose, reluctant to believe that participation is truly
voluntary or, may simply lose interest. As mentioned earlier, training in
quality technique is necessary to keep the circle productive and to prevent
gripe sessions. Furthermore circle implementation must be well thought out and
introduced as an on-going process, and not oriented toward a single problem
Quality circles in academia face special problems. Many academics view
education as an intangible, and so, not applicable to the productivity-boosting
techniques employed by industry. Furthermore, educators tend to emphasize
individual achievement and personal importance, which may run contrary to group
participation. Highly educated circle members tend to become over philosophical
about the purpose of the circle and may hamper circle progress. Finally, the
academic schedule is not particularly conducive to quality circles; end of term
rushes and vacation breaks tend to disturb circle momentum (Moretz, 1983).
Though originally intended for industry, the quality circle clearly has uses
in education. Community colleges seeking to improve employee and student morale
through participative management techniques may well wish to learn more about
the quality circle, its uses, and its effects.
Further information on the applications of quality circles can be obtained
through the small but growing literature on quality circles in higher education.
This literature is accessible through manual or computer searches of the ERIC
database; consult a librarian or contact the ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior
Colleges, 8118 Math-Sciences Building, UCLA, Los Angeles, California 90024.
Cohen, L. "Made-In-USA Quality Circles Become People-Building Tool." In
Community and Junior College Journal. 52 (March 1983): 34-35.
Hirshfield, C. "Quality Circles in the Classroom: An Experiment in the
Pedagogical Uses of Japanese Management Methods." Paper Presented at the Annual
Conference of the Eastern Community College Social Science Association,
Williamsburg, Virginia, March 23-26, 1983. (ED 233 758).
Ladwig, D. J. "Determining the Effectiveness and Evaluating the
Implementation Process of a Quality/Performance Circles System Model to Assist
in Institutional Decision Making and Problem Solving at Lakeshore Technical
Institute." Ed.D. Dissertation, Nova University, 1983. (ED 231 452).
Moretz, H. L. "Quality Circles in Education. Final Report." Charlotte, NC:
Central Piedmont Community College, 1983. (ED 231 479)
Murray, P. "The Quality Circle and the American Survey: What to Do When You
Can't Have Lunch." Unpublished paper, 1983. (ED 233 770)