Is TQM Connected to a College Education?
May 17, 2015
Q: Recently I read about a game from the 1990’s called "Guns and Butter." [fn 1] In the game players pretend they are in charge of a country’s economy and have to decide the investment balance between armaments, food and infrastructure. If the player spends too much on arms, the people starve. If the people starve, they won’t be able to support an army. How does this balance play out in the college? What is the connection with Total Quality Management (TQM)?
A: “Guns and butter” is an economic theory that is based on a concept of how to best build a strong nation. Does the nation build arms or feed its people? Dictatorships frequently choose to build a strong army and use external threats as a justification for actions against the good and prosperity of the people. Dictators make excuses for not spending resources to create a nation that is strong in the promotion of peace, intelligence, and happiness. For example look what happened to the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. After the war Germany and Japan with the external threats removed, they built strong economies.
In an organization such as a college or business “guns” are the quick fixes and “butter” is the investment in infrastructure. Infrastructure includes the physical resources such as buildings and tools, training of personnel, and business processes that promote the smooth running of the organization. Also needed are control systems for resource management such as procurement, spending, inventory, income, scheduling, time management, and personnel. An organization that presents a strong public face, but has weak products and support will not succeed. Support systems have to encourage staff and faculty by having the tools so that they avoid wasting time on tasks not connected to their jobs. Since these words seem to be circular reasoning, let me give examples. One should not have to waste time searching for proper procedures and policies. The staff in charge of equipment set up should keep equipment running so that faculty members don’t waste time asking for help. The building should be maintained for optimal classroom use. A directory of people, places and responsibilities should be available to all faculty and staff. One should not need an information network to figure out who does what.
Every organization has economic pressures. No college can exist without paying attention to the financial bottom line. However, the accountants in a distant office can not be allowed to rule the classroom. Some academic programs may lose money, but they are worth keeping. Reasons to keep a money losing program include the program supports a community need or is important as a component or precursor of another program. For example: Imagine a small program with 30 students that is the only school in the area teaching that discipline. If there are no other schools to enable students to be prepared and trained, then that profession or industry may suffer. The community needs the program. Another program such as a MBA program may be one of 20 in the area. If that MBA program closes because it is not financially viable, the community will not suffer.
Q: What kinds of quick fixes should be avoided?
A: A quick fix is anything that looks good, but does not solve the problem. Of course in building maintenance sometimes the quick fix is good enough. That kind of quick fix may last until a better solution can be devised. For example if a pipe breaks a quick fix may be to use pipe repair compound until a plumber can be called to replace the pipe. However, if the whole plumbing system is broken, a quick fix will just postpone the inevitable and not solve the problem.
W. Edward Deming is credited with starting the movement called, Total Quality Management (TQM)[fn 2]. Every aspect of the business from how the phones are answered to the
sourcing of raw materials and creating the final product is dedicated to quality. One of his examples is a company that makes white marbles. Early in the manufacturing process the marble machine was making 85 white marbles and 15 red marbles for every 100 marble batch. The quick fix would be to ship 100 marbles and charge for 85, letting the customer throw out the defective ones. Another quick fix would be to have a selection or inspection process to remove the defective ones. The Total Quality solution would be to figure out why the defective marbles are being manufactured and fix the whole process. Embracing quality and constant improvement are important part of Deming’s philosophy.
Q: What does this have to do with education?
A: Colleges need to have success metrics. Two metrics in vogue throughout the country are retention and graduation rates. The logic is seemly simple -- the goal of going to college is to graduate and launch oneself into a career. However, as we learned graduation is not always the goal or the planned outcome. Higher education, once only for the well-to-do, academic elite, or the extremely motivated, became a national priority with the National Defense Act of 1958. [fn 3] The act begins with the reason for the law.
The Congress hereby finds and declares that the security of the Nation requires the fullest development of the mental resources and technical skills of its young men and women. … We must increase our efforts to identify and educate more of the talent of our Nation. This requires programs that will give assurance that no student of ability will be denied an opportunity for higher education because of financial need…
The National Defense Act gave opportunities for financial help to millions of students including myself to attend college. The act did not even refer to graduation and retention. Most students in those years were highly motivated to finish. It was the student’s responsibility to complete the degree, not the college. Then as now not everyone who started college, finished. Many students left because they were not college material (either self discovered or the college asked them to leave) or had financial pressures. Personal and financial reasons are still the main reasons students don’t complete programs. Economically for the college it makes sense to retain students until they graduate. As in any business it is better to keep a current customer than find a new one.
If the metric is to measure retention and graduation rates, the institution changes behavior to increase the rates. This endangers lowering the bar to graduate. I heard a story from a colleague who told me his son just got an A.A. degree from a community college. I congratulated him and he responded, “My son hasn’t been in the college since 2005.” He had already graduated with an undergraduate and masters degrees and has been working full time for 7 years. It seems that someone in the administrative office of that college was looking for students who were close to the 60 credits required for graduation. Students received letters asking them if they took courses after leaving the college. If so, the office requested a transcript. If the credits were transferable, the students were sent a diploma. This meant nothing to the students. It was just to make the graduate rate higher.
In 2004 Vincent Tinto in an article [fn 4] for the Pell Institute wrote about retention and graduation. Without an interpretation of the student’s attainment of goals only 10% of students who started in a community college completed a bachelors degree within six years. [fn 5] Compare this to a 58% completion rate for those who started in a four year college or university. There are many factors involved such as income above $70,000 and parents who had completed college also had higher completion rates. Confounding all our statistics and measuring of graduation rates are those students who have no intention to graduate. They may want to update their skills, complete pre-requisites for a career change, or just learn to satisfy their curiosity. [fn 6]
The common reasons that students don’t complete their degree include lack of academic support, family support, and financial. Many low income students are not prepared for academic life for many reasons. Tinto suggests that the ways to increase graduation rates are to increase financial aid and academic support systems. The Federal and State governments need to remove the disincentives to serving low income and first generation college students.
Here are additional articles that support Tinto’s conclusions by Ann M. Gansemer-Topf [fn 7] and John F. Ryan [fn 8]. Doug Shapiro and Afet Dunbar suggest in chapter 13 of Handbook of strategic enrollment management [fn 9] traditional measures of success give a limited understanding students’ path to success. They say that existing studies on graduation and retention use flawed tools and metrics. They conclude that colleges must understand their student pathways, including where they come from, how and when they arrive, and why they leave. Colleges must devise and implement policies that lead to increase the number of successful students and (getting back to total quality management) institutional effectiveness (i.e. excellence.)
Based on this research, here at the College we are trying to measure success with metrics that relate to student success. Before I even started, the application included questions concerning student goals. Students who are attending without a desire to graduate are not included in retention and graduate metrics. We marketed the summer session to visiting students whose home town is here, but attend college in other cities. This led to more students attending summer session classes and we were able to offer courses to fill their needs.
We marketed college readiness courses for the summer session to high school seniors wanting to attend in the fall. They enrolled and by fall most were ready to take college level courses. When the summer session concentrates on readiness skills, the outcome in the fall was much better. The students got to the work of learning soon after high school graduation rather than waiting 2-3 months until the fall. The college readiness program is a dynamic process. We are always learning how to best serve the students with academic, personal, familial, financial and other needs.
Q: How does this relate to TQM?
A: In a previous article “New President Interview -- Part 24 Culture of Excellence” I talked about excellence. Now I am trying to find metrics to measure quality and excellence. So far I am having a hard time coming up with answers that both the faculty and the accountants can agree with. If we find out students are dropping courses we try to examine the reasons. If problems exist that we can correct, we take corrective action. If staff and faculty report processes that are not optimal to meet our goals of excellence we work on ways to correct them.
A first step is trying to define the products the College has to offer. TQM is about listening and understanding as much as acting to make change. A future article will deal with leadership.
Q: Thank you very much.
Part twenty-nine of imaginary interviews with the president of the College. After more than 20 interviews the president is no longer “new,” but since we are all works in progress I am continuing the series as if s/he were a “new president.” Please feel free to suggest new ideas for interviews and presidential comments. This article is for your information, amusement, and edification. Any connection to a real college or president is strictly coincidental.
 The Wikipedia article on the topic en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guns_versus_butter_model explains the concept and its history. For this article, it is just important to know the model is a balance of goals – infrastructure vs. armaments.
 Deming had 14 points in his management theory. See “Deming's 14-Point Philosophy A Recipe for Total Quality “ http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newSTR_75.htm for details.
 20 U.S. Code Chapter 17 - National Defense Education Program Public Law 855-864. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-72/pdf/STATUTE-72-Pg1580.pdf Note the program was only for students of public or non-profit regionally accredited institutions that granted bachelors degrees or 2 year programs that transfer to bachelors degrees and graduate programs. Up to 50% of the loan would be forgiven for teachers in public elementary or high schools.
 Tinto, Vincent. “Student retention and graduation facing the truth, living with the consequences” Washington, DC : Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education July 2004 Available via ERIC http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED519709 or http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED519709.pdf
 Ibid. p.5.
 I know one person who took a course every sem
 Gansemer-Topf, Ann M. and John H. Schuh. “Institutional selectivity and institutional expenditures: Examining organizational factors that contribute to retention and graduation” In: Research in Higher Education. September 2006 Volume 47, Issue 6 , pp 613-642.
 Ryan, John F. “Institutional expenditures and student engagement: a role for financial resources in enhancing student learning and development?” In: Research in Higher Education, March 2005, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 235-249
 Shapiro, Doug and Dunbar, Afet. “New context for retention and persistence.” Chapter 13 pages 249-265 in Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management / edited by Don Hossler, Bob Bontrager. San Francisco. Josey-Bass, 2015.