Quality Is Job One: Can IHEs Improve the Quality of Education without Breaking the Bank or Sacrificing Research? William Massy Says `Yes.' (Interview)

By Goral, Tim | University Business, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Quality Is Job One: Can IHEs Improve the Quality of Education without Breaking the Bank or Sacrificing Research? William Massy Says `Yes.' (Interview)


Goral, Tim, University Business


Good, but not good enough. That's what William F. Massy, president of the Jackson Hole Higher Education Group and professor emeritus at Stanford University, says of American higher education in his latest work, Honoring the Trust: Quality and Cost Containment in Higher Education (Anker Publishing, 2003). According to Massy, Americans trust higher ed to serve the public in ways that other institutions can't, but too often perceive those same institutions as self serving, preoccupied with research, and indifferent to productivity improvement. His book offers a road map for improvement that will, over time, allow institutions to better honor that trust. Massy recently spoke with University Business about how institutions can significantly improve the quality of education without boosting expenditures or dismantling the research enterprise.

University Business: Dr. Massy, you say that universities can improve the quality of education without spending more or undermining research and scholarship. How can this be accomplished?

Massy: By improving education quality processes. It's a matter of the faculty focusing more on the processes that will help them improve the quality of education. These are common-sense policies, not rocket science. But, as faculty, many of us haven't been trained to execute them, and we don't think of them.

What types of common-sense polities?

Massy: The academic audit, for one. It provides a good way to start conversations about quality processes. You begin with a pilot department and engage the department chair and the faculty in discussion about the quality processes they are using. But discussions, by themselves, don't really get you there; you need some future event to keep them focused. So you have the department write a self-evaluation report based on their discussions. Then you create a program review team, and tell the department that the team will visit it in nine months and write a report on what they find. This process really gets everyone's attention focused on quality processes. So, besides stimulating improvement, they can gauge a unit's "maturity" in quality process development.

You wrote that faculty lack the needed understanding of education quality. Why do they have trouble with that concept?

Massy: We tend to equate "quality" with "excellence." To the typical academic, excellence means great students, research-based prestige, and so on. But quality is something different: You certainty need a good faculty in adequate numbers to do a good job of education. And yes, research does help, but they are necessary conditions, not sufficient conditions. There are also certain things you must do to maintain your quality in education.

What things are those?

Massy: You have to pay attention to the things that directly drive the quality of education--how you deploy your research prowess and your faculty resources, in the interest of education quality.

How does the understanding and development of quality tie in with the trust placed in institutions by their stakeholders?

Massy: The trust is what people believe colleges and universities should be doing for society, that is, for the student. And it is a trust: These are public service organizations, even the private ones get substantial tax benefits because of their public service character, and the public universities get direct subsidies as well. The public has a right to expect that institutions will do the best they can regarding the things that are important to the public. And that includes educating undergraduates.

In your book, you cite a survey in which the public, asked to rate the overall performance, gave higher education a "B"--

Massy: A "gentleman's B," yes. They said it's okay, but not great. People are very concerned about the rising cost of education. People are focused on the cost; they are clearly not addressing the quality, although that's directly related to the cost-effectiveness of education: People are coming to realize that it could be a lot better for what is being spent. …

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