• Since 1996 the job placement rate for graduates
has been above 98 percent.
• About 90 percent of alumni say they would
attend UW-Stout again.
• UW-Stout’s "Mission-Driven—Market
Smart" focus is characterized by an array of
programs leading to professional careers primarily
in industry and education.
• Ninety-nine percent of employers surveyed
rate UW-Stout graduates as well prepared.
On March 7, 2002, President
George W. Bush and Commerce Secretary Don Evans presented
five organizations with Malcolm Baldrige National Quality
Awards in recognition of their performance excellence and
quality achievements. Among the winners was the University
of Wisconsin-Stout, which won in the education category.
Located in Menomonie, Wisconsin, UW-Stout was one of three
educational organizations to earn Baldrige Awards in 2001;
previously there had been no winners in the education category.
One of 13 publicly supported universities in the University
of Wisconsin system, the 110-year-old UW-Stout employs about
1,200 people, serving nearly 8,000 students. Its annual
operating budget is $95 million, with which UW-Stout offers
27 undergraduate and 16 graduate degrees through three colleges.
This distinctive array of degree offerings stems from UW-Stout’s
"Mission Driven—Market Smart" focus aimed
at developing students for careers in industry and education.
This mission guides all key processes, including strategic
planning, program development, partnership building, and
teaching and learning.
UW-Stout uses a comprehensive set of methods for listening
to and learning from students throughout their academic
careers and beyond. Student needs, expectations, attitudes
and performance are tracked through surveys, course and
program evaluations, and myriad "success measures"
that link student performance to educational effectiveness.
UW-Stout seniors exceeded the national peer averages of
"active" learning—traditional instruction
reinforced with real-life experience—by 13 percent
What follows is an interview with Charles Sorensen, the
university’s chancellor for the past 14 years. This
is the fourth of five interviews, conducted with a representative
from each 2001 Baldrige Award winner, appearing in consecutive
issues of Quality Digest.
QD: How were you first introduced
to the Baldrige Award?
In the 1990s,
we flirted with quality tools like TQM, and we had teams
looking at possible process improvements. It worked extremely
well in some spots. Then we made some major changes in 1996
that flattened our organizational structure by opening up
the campus through more participation in identifying university
priorities and awareness of budget decisions. We appointed
a CIO for our technology effort and created a new office
called the office of budget, planning and analysis, which
functions like a CFO would.
When the Baldrige developed higher education criteria in
1999, we had an alum that had worked with IBM on its Baldrige
Award effort. He said what we were doing matched up pretty
well. We liked the paradigm of the Baldrige. It was tight,
it was focused and it didn’t necessarily tell you
what you had to do within those seven categories. It allows
you to really address those things in your mission and how
QD: You said it was the mid-1990s
when you really started flirting with some quality tools.
What were your major goals then?
We were actually
encouraged by the UW system to adopt some quality tools
to become more efficient. That was the purpose, and it worked
pretty well in some areas. For example, we changed our admissions
policies and processes.
QD: You say the school underwent
some structural changes in 1996. What was the impetus for
We had to cut
5 percent of our budget. But as we made decisions about
cutting back, we were also investing heavily in technology
infrastructure. We first created what we call the Chancellor’s
Advisory Council, which comprises students, faculty and
staff. Everything we discuss as priorities or as budget-making
decisions, CAC discusses and makes a recommendation to me.
We opened up the process for prioritization. We go out
every fall and ask nine focus groups what they think are
the priorities. This feeds back to the CAC and really opens
up the campus to anyone who has an idea. Then we added the
office of budget, planning and analysis. We put planning
and budget in one organization. And then we appointed a
CIO because we were doing so much with technology that we
had to have one voice speaking for the campus in the area
QD: How were you able to pay
for the Baldrige application and related fees?
I think the application
fees were about $1,500. We promised the campus when we went
for the Baldrige that we wouldn’t create a new center
of quality. We wouldn’t go out and hire staff or create
a whole new bureaucracy for the process. We assigned this
out to current staff. My leadership team all participated
in writing portions of the application and we all read the
criteria. We had a consultant, the alum I referred to earlier,
work with us as well. So although we didn’t spend
a lot of money on this, we did spend a lot of time on this.
QD: What was the most difficult
part about getting to the Baldrige level?
I think it was reinventing the campus, seeing the campus
not as a collection of isolated departments, but as a set
of systems that all relate to one another in some way. It
sounds simple, but it wasn’t.
QD: What have been some of
the major quality improvements you’ve seen during
your Baldrige journey?
We think differently
at this campus now. We think in terms of improving everything
on a continual basis. We don’t look backward anymore.
There’s been constant improvement in every process
we have. We think with more vision than we ever did before,
always looking ahead five years at what we want to become
and how we’re going to get there.
QD: Are there any areas in
which you think that the education criteria are lacking?
I think that
the strength of the Baldrige is that it’s not prescriptive.
You can even take the criteria and drive it into the classroom
very deeply, but we chose not to do that because we felt
we had enough classroom admissions, retention and graduation
rate measures. I don’t think that the Baldrige criteria
have any major weaknesses because you can decide what you
want to do within the seven criteria, based on your organization.
QD: Throughout the process,
did you find facets of the criteria that made you say, "This
really doesn’t apply to us?"
a pretty good alignment, actually. We have about a $100
million budget and we employ 1,200 people. For example,
we house students, so we look at things like the efficiency
of energy usage. There are a lot of things that align very
nicely because one-half of what we do is focus on a business
model. You have to be accountable for the business functions
that you operate.
The alignment is less clear on the academic side. Nonetheless,
every department has to have a plan.There’s also a
misalignment on the issue of complaints. We were criticized
on the first site visit in 1999 for this. There were eight
evaluators; five were from the private sector and three
from higher education. They wanted to know about our complaint
process. We told them that if it’s a student issue,
it goes to the dean of students. If it’s a faculty
issue, it goes to the provost. If it’s an issue of
a hostile environment, it goes to the affirmative action
office. They said: "No. Where is your office of complaints?"
Well, we didn’t have one because it doesn’t
fit our culture here. Later we created a roll-up process
for all the different areas that had responsibility for
complaints, and we look at these every quarter to identify
QD: How has life changed since
you won the award?
I was just talking to my associate vice chancellor, who
helped lead our Baldrige effort. After we won, we received
numerous phone calls from around the country. We’ve
had schools in 13 nations contact us. We visited three:
Turkey, Japan and Austria. Domestically, it was maybe 75
schools in about 30 states. We’ve probably given about
50 presentations. But now things are starting to roll in
a much deeper way. People want us to consult with them,
to assess their progress toward the Baldrige or at least
toward a quality system for improvement. So we’re
getting a lot of attention from organizations that focus
on higher education as well as the private sector.
We’re going to identify a center on campus to handle
the mass requests on our time, including visits from people
coming here, and to read and review state and national award
QD: So, feedback from your
peers has been largely positive?
Initially a lot
of my friends from outside Wisconsin were saying, "Well,
it fits you, but not us," or "This reeks of higher
ed." But I think that we’ve demonstrated at UW-Stout
that the Baldrige is a clear fit for any university or subsets
of any university because it’s not prescriptive, but
it forces you to drill down into your organization and look
at the specific issues that drive your organization.
For more information about the University of Wisconsin-Stout,
call (715) 232-5901 or e-mail Julie Furst-Bowe at
Robert Green is Quality Digest’s managing editor.
Letters to the editor regarding this piece can be e-mailed