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The Official Baldrige Blog

Intelligent Risk at Richland College

by Pamela Wong (Former Writer, Baldrige Program)

Richland College presented a thought-provoking session at the Quest for Excellence® Conference this week. Richland is the large (15,000 students enrolled for credit) community college in Dallas, Texas, that earned the Baldrige Award in 2005.

The session focused on responsible risk-taking, a core competency for Richland that meshes with the intelligent risk concept discussed in item notes and item descriptions in the 2011–2012 Criteria for Performance Excellence.

Dr. Kay Eggleston, Richland’s interim president, noted that in times of cutbacks and a difficult economy, organizations tend to become more risk averse. But those times are really when risk taking, because of its relationships to innovation and improvements in student learning, becomes critical.

She used Richland’s acceptance to the Achieving the Dream (AtD) consortium, the largest nongovernmental initiative in the history of community colleges, as an example. AtD focuses on closing achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color, influencing state and national policies, and making data-informed institutional decisions.

However, participation in AtD doesn’t come with funding. In this time of very tight budgets and an extra-lean workforce, that’s risky. The question: Was it an intelligent risk?

Thinking strategically, Richland determined that AtD would make the college eligible for grants, provide benchmarking opportunities, and integrate well with its other activities. It was a risk worth taking. Although it’s too early to report Richland’s results with AtD, it will be interesting to track the progress. 

To make AtD work for them, Richland took the following strategic actions:

  • To encourage buy-in, it made the program totally faculty driven.
  • It focused on student success in gatekeeper courses that had the largest enrollment of all.
  • It developed a new-to-college program for the lowest-performing students.
  • Finally, it obtained a Department of Education grant to finance all AtD initiatives.

Kay said that involvement with the Baldrige Criteria causes Richland to focus fully on the future and embrace intelligent risk taking.

How is your organization taking intelligent risks in this risk-averse economy?

Kay Eggleston will be at the conference of the American Association of Community Colleges, which begins tomorrow. We hope to be exhibiting there, if the federal government does not shut down. Stop by to see us. 

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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Looking at all risks that affect your presence in any economy is undoubtedly most profitable from a long-term perspective. With a well thought-out strategy, most organizations can identify "bad" risks and avoid the enticement of short-term gains over long-term survival. The Baldrige Criteria addresses strategy development and how your strategy addresses your strategic challenges. If you understand your challenges then you can prepare for them to achieve your objectives. Strategic planning is key to surviving a risk-averse economy, as Kay will probably endorse.

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