Dr. Timothy Mottet, provost at Northwest Missouri State University for the past three years, will begin serving as president of Colorado State University–Pueblo in July. For both universities, the capstone project Mottet developed as a 2016–2017 Baldrige Executive Fellow is likely to benefit students for years to come.
In implementing the project at Northwest Missouri State over the past year, Mottet laid the groundwork to ensure that the university’s curriculum, as well as wide-ranging co-curricular activities, map to the current and future workforce needs identified by potential employers—with the ultimate aim of increasing the value of a college degree.
To find out more about his innovative work in higher education, I recently interviewed Mottet. Following are excerpts from the conversation.
I examined more closely two problems in higher education: first, the criticism that higher education is out of touch with workforce development needs; second, the criticism around the amount of learning that college students acquire while in college.
We developed an annual scorecard to evaluate curriculum and how well the curriculum is serving our students. Faculty members answer ten questions by providing evidence in the form of empirical data, and they then award their academic degree program a grade of “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” or “F.” Based on the grade, the faculty develop five recommendations to enhance the curriculum over a set period of time. We have a process in place to ensure that they take action on those recommendations.
Usually if an academic program is found not to be adding value, it is eliminated. But the difference is [with this approach] we are holding all faculty harmless. We are trying to take the fear out of their evaluating themselves with a grade. What I’ve learned is that if you do process improvement, you’ve got to take the fear out of the process. Also, I want this to be driven from the faculty side, rather than by the administration.
As an institution, over a series of meetings with a variety of faculty members, we identified seven institutional learning outcomes. The state of Missouri has guidelines that helped shape these outcomes. I’m very proud of the fact that the faculty valued leadership and teamwork to the point that they identified them as institutional learning priorities.
We’ve been mapping all curricular activities and co-curricular experiences (e.g., belonging to a fraternity or a sorority) to the seven outcomes. We recognized that there’s a lot of co-curricular learning, and we wanted to ensure that such learning is aligned with curricular learning outcomes.
The next step is to measure the outcomes. It’s important to us that all students who graduate with degrees from our institution have confidence that they’ve met the seven learning outcomes because that’s part of our social compact with their potential employers. Every time we met with the employers who are hiring our graduates, we had conversations that pushed us to think more carefully about our curriculum and how we are engaging our students in the learning process. The Baldrige Criteria [part of the Baldrige Excellence Framework] helped us shape and frame the conversations.
My overall vision is to increase the value of a higher-education degree. I personally believe that curriculum has a shelf life. Knowledge is developed at a rapid speed today, so the curriculum must be constantly revised in order to remain current and relevant.
The bottom-line impacts include a lot of changes, but ultimately the impacts will be students’ decisions to attend the university because they see that we take learning and curriculum seriously and employers’ decisions to seek out our graduates as new hires because they see our institution as adding value to our students’ learning. Throughout the past 12 months, the faculty has generated close to 500 changes to the curriculum. Fifty of those changes have been significant changes, for example, adding new degree programs. Through the scorecard process, the faculty identified a gap and then filled it with a new degree program that maps to employer needs. One example of how the scorecard is enhancing the curriculum is what we are seeing in our School of Agricultural Sciences. We’ve added a new emphasis area in agricultural literacy and advocacy. That new curricular development was the result of industry representatives [providing input through the professional advisory boards of Northwest Missouri State’s schools] helping us think through curricular changes.
For me personally, I saw more clearly what I didn’t know. My own professional development gap analysis became clear after working alongside 25 incredibly talented executive fellows. I also learned that there is a similarity in problems across industries and types of organizations. We all share problems related to people, process, and culture. Getting out of your industry and seeing how someone in another industry has solved the same problem was most beneficial to me.
The Baldrige framework criterion around the customer (category 3)—the voice-of-the-customer concept—is quite grounding. I think that can get lost. For me, “Are we meeting the needs of students?” is the key question. Overall, Baldrige has given me a new operating system … that has allowed me to look at complex organizations with a different lens.
I think it’s invaluable to overlay the Criteria in relation to your current organizational chart. If you don’t see the alignment, then there’s a gap that I think is very important. The Criteria will show you what’s missing from your organizational chart or your processes. And I think that’s probably a painful observation for many in higher education.