Legislators, parents, alumni, and employers are asking for greater accountability in higher education today. Within the academy, administrators who are faced with increasing costs of providing quality education search for ways to maintain or improve the value of the education they provide. Consumers and government want more and better for less. At the same time, administrators are challenged with the rising costs of labor, technology, and infrastructure maintenance.
Higher education remains one of the few enterprises that hasn't been fully integrated into the quality improvement process. Most faculty, and indeed their administrators too, would appropriately argue that the interaction between instructor and student isn't well suited for the approaches extolled by Deming. But a large portion of what the academy does to support classroom activities can be scrutinized using quality improvement techniques. And some activities of the classroom may be amenable to quality improvement approaches-at least according the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Accreditation Association. The HLC has developed the Baldrige criteria-based Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP).
Illinois Central College, like several other colleges, has been involved in learning the basics of process management for the past three years. Teams were encouraged to form around nagging problems people faced in their daily jobs. These efforts yielded some significant improvements, such as changes in the health careers application process and in the student billing process. But ICC can do more and will begin implementing AQIP soon. AQIP is only one part of a more rigorous look at processes.
With the support and encouragement of friend and partner Caterpillar Inc., ICC also will begin the process of becoming a 6 Sigma organization. The move is historic-not only for the college, but for higher education in general. To the best of our knowledge, ICC is the first and only institution of higher education to make this bold move. The experiences of ICC with 6 Sigma will not only serve to improve academic processes at our college, but very likely will open up new frontiers for quality management throughout higher education.
Once again, we find that a local partnership between industry and education provides the potential for national and even global impact. And again, our students, college, and community will benefit thanks to such a partnership. IBI