Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The Alamo Colleges district has been awarded the Texas Award for Performance Excellence (TAPE) in recognition of their continuing efforts to improve their efficiency and quality as an institute of higher education, employer, and member of the San Antonio community.
“For the Alamo Colleges, this is affirmation that the taxpayers, stakeholders and students can trust that we are excellent stewards of our tax and tuition resources and that we are worthy of further investment. For our university and employer partners who transfer and employ our students, this affirms the high level of academic and skills education our students have gained,”said Alamo Colleges chancellor Bruce Leslie.
The award is not so much a final commendation, as much as a milestone in continuing achievement, said Deb Morgan, director of strategic initiatives and performance planning at Alamo Colleges. TAPE is given to organizations demonstrating growth in key objectives over three years.
Alamo Colleges would now like to pursue a Baldrige Award, and continue to utilize the program as a framework for improvement, as it was intended.
“The National Baldrige Program is the primary model, among others, we use to inform, guide and assess our effectiveness as an organization,” said Leslie.
In the 1980s US Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige pushed heavily for improved quality management and increased efficiency as key strategy to keeping the country’s competitive edge.
While the United States had largely ignored the philosophy of W. Edwards Deming, Japan embraced it, leading to a surge in Japanese automotive and technology quality, and eventually bringing them to the global prominence they enjoyed by the 1990s.
When Baldrige died in a rodeo accident in 1987, Congress named an award after him to be given to companies, primarily in industry and manufacturing, that exemplify best practices in quality management and growth.
Morgan summarizes criteria for the Baldrige Award as leadership, planning, listening to customers, employee welfare, improving processes, and data-driven decisions.
Individual states were quick to implement their own similar awards. Under Governor Ann Richards, Texas established the Quality Texas Foundation, which awards the TAPE.
The Baldrige Award, TAPE, and most other state awards have since expanded their scope to include healthcare, education, and non-profits, each with their own nuances to the criteria for excellence.
“If you’re a key stakeholder at Walmart, you are looking for a particular kind of service, a healthcare patient is really not looking for the same kind of service,” said Morgan.
Two colleges in the district have already received the TAPE as educational institutions: Northwest Vista and Palo Alto.
The first community college ever to win the TAPE was Richland College, in the Dallas County Community College District, in 2005. Jackie Claunch, a former vice president at Richland College, had already moved to Northwest Vista, ready to implement the same rigorous quality standards she had seen at Richland.
Northwest Vista soon became a national standard-bearer in moving students through a developmental math cycle. Palo Alto produced data showing that their student engagement outside of class could rival some of the most successful community colleges in the country. Both schools received the TAPE in recognition of their achievements in these and other areas.
Leslie wanted to see the criteria used across the district, not only to evaluate their services to students, but to the entire city. He wanted to see the success of two individual campuses saturating the whole system, which was not the case.
“Each little entity was on their own quality journey,” said Morgan.
As a community college district, Alamo Colleges has three sets of stakeholders: the colleges themselves, the larger education community from pre-K to higher education, and the business community.
Their primary goal, of course, is graduating students.
“We have to demonstrate that we are moving students to graduation at higher rates,” said Morgan.
They also need to show improved financial position, strategic planning, and engaged employees. The surveys and focus groups that provide this data, have helped the district listen to students, employees, K-12 teachers feeding students into the district, and university admissions offices receiving students from the district.
To systematize their goals, the board committed to three strategies they call the Alamo Way: student success, principle centered leadership, and performance excellence. Student success flows naturally from the second two strategies, according to Leslie.
“Principle Centered Leadership is a skill each student is learning to prepare her or him for their future and also a skill we are teaching every employee so each member of the Alamo Colleges family can help continuously improve our operations and teaching and learning purpose,” Leslie said. “Performance Excellence is focused on increasing our operational efficiencies while improving quality in order to ensure every dollar we spend is spent effectively and with purpose.”
Their TAPE reflects improving services in every department, from campus police to human resources, to accounts payable. Because every department plays a role in delivering education to students and educated students to the community, each department must operate at its best.
Five years ago, Alamo Colleges would not have been able to give substantive answers to questions about student satisfaction or the strategic plan, Morgan said. With three years of feedback data and goal setting, every department has a rubric for success.
“That’s a concerted, focused, effort,” said Morgan.
*Top Image: Alamo Colleges Chancellor Dr. Bruce Leslie describes the importance of Alamo Colleges’ Westside Education and Training Center. Photo by Scott Ball.