ERIC Identifier: ED350972
Publication Date: 1992-10-00
Author: Chaffee, Ellen Earle - Sherr, Lawrence A.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.| George
Washington Univ. Washington DC. School of Education and Human Development.
Quality: Transforming Postsecondary Education. ERIC Digest.
The last decade has brought unprecedented public demand for higher quality in
colleges and universities. External agencies and the public have lost confidence
in higher education: We might be "for" quality, but in many eyes we do not "do"
quality. Moreover, we cost too much.
To deal with these external challenges, a rapidly increasing number of
colleges and universities are borrowing an approach from business called Total
Quality Management (TQM), Total Quality, the Deming Management Method, Kaizen,
Continuous Quality Improvement, or other terms (Cornesky et al. 1990, 1991;
Seymour 1992; Sherr and Teeter 1991).
WHAT IS TQM?
TQM is a comprehensive philosophy of living
and working in organizations that emphasizes the relentless pursuit of
continuous improvement. It encompasses an extensive array of tools for
implementation. Its essence can be simplified to three ideas: defining quality,
improving the organization's work performance (or "technical system"), and
improving its administrative system.
The fundamental purposes of TQM are to improve quality, increase
productivity, and decrease cost. Making the transformation to TQM signifies two
basic changes for postsecondary institutions: (1) from asserting that we
exemplify quality to a commitment that, no matter how good we are, we can and
will continuously improve, and (2) from promising to offer greater quality in
exchange for more money to a commitment that we can and will find ways to
increase quality and decrease cost. These changes, fully implemented, would
require substantial cultural change throughout the campus.
WHAT IS QUALITY?
Quality in design, quality output, and a
quality process are all necessary components of quality. Quality in design
relates to both the output (for example, an academic program that meets
students' needs) and the process (for example, how the curriculum, faculty,
equipment, scheduling, and other factors combine to effect the program). Quality
output means achieving the desired result; for example, all pharmacy graduates
pass their examination for licensure. A quality process means that all the steps
within the organization's functioning from beginning to end work effectively
toward the desired goals, with each step adding value.
In academic organizations, we have paid considerable attention to quality
output (outcomes assessment) and quality in design (curriculum design, transfer
of credit). We tend not to think about a quality process. The emphasis on
quality output is inadequate because we cannot inspect quality into a product or
service at the end of the line. Once a product is made or a service rendered,
the only way to improve it is to do it over. On the other hand, if the process
is properly designed and functional, quality is built into the result.
Inputs are a favorite proxy for quality in higher education. Inputs are
important indeed, but they do not create or measure quality. Design, processes,
and outputs define appropriate inputs. Proper inputs maximize the system, while
improper inputs limit the system. Therefore, it is more sensible to think of
inputs as "proper" or "appropriate" than as part of the definition of "quality."
From the perspective of improving quality, an institution is a collection of
processes. Knowing why a process exists is the first step to improving it. Often
the purpose of a process was long ago forgotten, and the process has taken on a
life of its own. For example, many campuses continue to require the dean's
signature on a student's registration card, although often the dean no longer
even sees the card, much less provides the advisory or regulatory service that
the signature was intended to represent. In addition to having a reason for
existence, all processes also exist to meet the needs of the people they are
intended to serve. An institution must determine the reason for each process,
the people it is intended to serve, and what those people want and need.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR IMPROVEMENT?
The conceptual and
operational tools that TQM offers for identifying problems, finding their root
causes, and eliminating those causes are often called the "quality improvement
process." The improvement of quality is itself a process--the process of
applying the scientific method to your work. The literature on TQM often refers
to this idea as the Shewhart cycle, the "Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle," or "the PDCA
cycle." First, plan. Spend adequate effort to understand the nature and causes
of a problem by collecting data on it. Use the data to develop a theory for
improving the process: If we do such and such, the process will improve in these
ways for these reasons. Then do--try your solution in a limited way to be sure
it works--and check: Did the solution work as intended, or does it need
revision? Collect data at this stage too to be sure that the new process is
better than the old one. Finally, act. When you are satisfied with the results,
implement your solution permanently in all areas where it is relevant. Whether
the experiment works or not, go through the PDCA cycle again for continuous
TQM offers a number of analytical tools to use in the PDCA cycle, including
flow charts, run charts, Pareto charts, and cause-and-effect diagrams. Process
improvement is based on several key ideas:
* You cannot inspect quality into a product or service at the end of the
line. Quality requires not just the detection of defects, but also their
prevention. It requires elimination of unnecessary steps and assurance of
* All work is a process. The details of organizational processes are
important because they are the substance of organizational work that ultimately
produces the results. If the details are wrong, the process is wrong. If the
process is wrong, the results are wrong. Quality requires attention to detail.
* You cannot improve a process without data. And often the data yield
* Common causes of problems are inherent in every process and are not
attributable to the worker.
* Special causes of problems come from exceptions to the normal process.
Eliminating them requires detecting them as quickly as possible.
* Adding steps to a process adds opportunities for new problems. Make each
process as simple as possible to improve quality.
HOW DOES ONE ADMINISTER FOR QUALITY?
points of view characterize the administration of an organization oriented
* The primary job of administration is to remove the barriers that prevent
people from achieving quality work processes. Administrators must listen.
* When something goes wrong, the most appropriate and productive first
assumption is that the process needs improvement. Making this assumption
requires changing the habit of blaming the person who is working in the process.
* The most valuable knowledge about how to improve a process resides in the
people who work in the process. Accessing this knowledge requires a supportive
climate in which people are free of fear. Taking full advantage of it requires
cross-functional teams of people who work at various stages in the process.
* Cooperation must replace competition as the operating premise of the
organization. Supporting cooperation will require many substantive changes.
* Administrators must entrust the people who work in a process with the
opportunity and the authority to improve it.
* The value of education and training for all cannot be overestimated.
WHAT ABOUT ACADEMIC QUALITY?
The faculty will play the most
important role in developing the concept of continuous quality improvement and
other ideas about TQM as they might apply to academic activity. Faculty must
resolve several vitally important questions. To what extent and in what ways are
faculty comfortable treating students as beneficiaries? Is it feasible and
useful to emphasize the improvement of quality and an orientation toward process
in assessment, rather than an orientation toward accountability and outcomes?
What would be the implications of relaxing departmental boundaries to encourage
more serious examination of the multidisciplinary process of education as
students experience it? Can and should faculty incentive systems become more
responsive to the faculty's efforts to improve instruction?
HOW CAN A CAMPUS CONTINUOUSLY IMPROVE?
transformation to quality requires top-level commitment, followed by substantial
and comprehensive reeducation of all personnel. The transformation requires
time, effort, and willingness to change. It involves up-front investment, but in
the long run it reduces cost by increasing productivity. The quality-driven
organization meets the needs of the people it serves, both within and without.
Berry, Thomas H. 1991. Managing the Total
Quality Transformation. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Block, Peter. 1987. The Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cornesky, Robert A., et al. 1990. W. Edwards Deming: Improving Quality in
Colleges and Universities. Madison, Wis.: Magna Publications.
Cornesky, Robert, Sam McCool, Larry Byrnes, and Robert Weber. 1991.
Implementing Total Quality Management in Higher Education. Madison, Wis.: Magna
Scholtes, Peter R., et al. 1991. The Team Handbook: How to Improve Quality
with Teams. Madison, Wis.: Joiner Associates.
Seymour, Daniel T. 1992. On Q: Causing Quality in Higher Education. New York:
Sherr, Lawrence A., and Deborah J. Teeter, eds. 1991. Total Quality
Management in Higher Education. New Directions in Institutional Research No. 71.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.