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The Official Baldrige Blog

Customer Focus at “Colleges That Change Lives”

by Pamela Wong (Former Writer, Baldrige Program)

 It’s that time of year—parents (including me!) are dropping off their children to begin the college adventure. They and their student are excited and nervous, hoping they have selected the right college or university for them. To help in the selection process, perhaps they consulted an intriguing book—Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope, former education editor for The New York Times.

Pope was one of the first to encourage students to select a college that best fits them—instead of relying on college rankings that seemed to suggest that “one size fits all.” In his book and through the foundation he established, Pope highlights 40 lesser-known colleges and universities that have, in his words, “life-changing success with students.”

These schools range in enrollment from 350 to 4,000 and share some common characteristics, such as a focus on student and stakeholder engagement that includes low student-to-faculty ratios, a commitment to undergraduate liberal arts and sciences education, a primarily residential environment, and an active alumni network that supports graduates.

In such a small, close-knit community, it’s easy to see how they could build a student- and stakeholder-focused culture. But what about other schools, such as large public universities, business schools, and community colleges? How do they achieve "life-changing success" with their students?

Many higher education institutions that are looking for a comprehensive approach to achieve success are using the Baldrige Excellence Framework (Education) to support  their students. A broad range of education organizations have successfully used the Criteria. Just take a look at those that have received the Baldrige Award:

  • University of Wisconsin-Stout—a public university that offers 40 undergraduate and 19 graduate majors through six academic colleges and schools. A full 99 percent of employers ranked its graduates as well-prepared, and 90 percent of alumni said they would attend the university again.
  • Kenneth W. Monfort College of Business—a college within the University of Northern Colorado that graduates about 300 students a year. Among its results were rankings in the top 10 percent nationally on 10 of 16 student satisfaction measures.
  • Richland College—a two-year community college with a student body of some 15,000 students seeking college credits and some 6,000 continuing education students. On at least four satisfaction measures that students rank as most important, it surpassed the national norm for four years.

Do you have any results to share on the Baldrige Criteria’s impact at an institution of higher education?

About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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A word of caution. Anecdotes do not form a system. The colleges featured in "Change Lives" tend to be very expensive, which can be disastrous if even the least dramatic scenarios for the ongoing economic problems continues. Where is the data to determine if these schools ae the right option? I found the following NY Times article an eye-opener; many similar pieces are available all over the net: Placing the Blame as Students Are Buried in Debt Lean thinking and a systematic approach apply to the college choice process as they do to most other important life events. A book of anecdotes about quirkly liberal arts colleges is not the answer that most people need today.

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