Quality in Higher Education: The Student's Role

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

One continuing area of interest in higher education is the continuing improvements in the quality of education. As a result, some universities have made an effort to implement total quality management (TQM) from industry with varying degrees of success. Two questions frequently arising in these efforts are the degree of emphases on the internal and external processes and the role of the student, often acknowledged as "the customer". The purposes of this paper are as follows: (a) illuminate the notable differences which exist between the applications of TQM in industrial and service firms and its relevance to understanding the role(s) of the student in relationship to the processes/systems of higher education; (b) establish an analytical framework for better understanding and appreciation of the system of higher education and to create a more relevant definition of the student's position in the process of higher education; and to (c) identify the real customers of the educational system so quality efforts can be directed toward optimization of the system.

INTRODUCTION

In the 1980s the concepts of prominent quality management advocates such as Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Dr. Joseph Juran, Armand V. Feigenbaum, and Philip Crosby were scrutinized and applied to change industrial systems and the focus of management. Manufacturing applied total quality management (TQM) concepts to its operations, the quality of U. S. goods improved, and American business began reversing the erosion in its domestic market share. In 1987, the U. S. government encouraged and recognized the TQM movement by establishing the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) (The Malcolm Baldrige, September 25, 2001).

Acknowledging that TQM concepts led to vast improvements in service quality and competitiveness, some universities, with the financial assistance and support of major corporations, attempted to directly translate TQM principles from manufacturing and service applications to those of higher education. Institutions attempting to use the TQM principles included the Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Wisconsin, Boston College, Babson College, Samford University, and the University of Massachusetts. Although the applications were the same, to differentiate education TQM from the TQM of industry, applications in education were renamed as total quality education (TQE) and continuous quality improvement (CQI). In 2001, the University of Wisconsin-Stout won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in the Education Category (Baldrige Award Recipients, August 15, 2003), making this university the first Baldrige Award recipient in higher education.

The TQM or facets of TQM continue to be broadly embraced and applied in higher education. However, in the opinion of the authors, too many of these present applications of TQM are faddish, representing bureaucratic biases rather than the established principles and concepts of the prominent TQM creators. They fail to appropriately focus on the process system. There has been an unquestioning and slavish allegiance to the original principle of customer-driven quality, and, simultaneously, a more liberal approach to the importance of the identification of critical processes to quality. Specifically, the misapplication of the customer focus that has resulted in the misidentification of the student as the "customer" has been a consistently identified obstacle in implementing total quality across numerous institutions. The authors challenge the views that students are primarily products of the educational process and that students are the primary customers, whose satisfaction is foremost in the development of a quality product. The purposes of this article are to: (a) illuminate the notable differences which exist between the applications of TQM in industrial and service firms and its relevance to understanding the role(s) of the student in relationship to the processes/systems of higher education; (b) establish an analytical framework for better understanding and appreciation of the system of higher education and to create a more relevant definition of the student's position in the process of higher education; and to (c) identify the real customers of the educational system so quality efforts can be directed toward optimization of the system. …