The U.S. Commerce Department announced earlier this month that Maryland’s Howard Community College (HCC) is the winner of the 2019 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in the category of education. The award is the nation’s only presidential-level honor for performance excellence in organizations.
HCC is only the third community college institution to receive the award. The Alamo Colleges District, which represents five community colleges, won in 2018, and Richland College in 2005. Both institutions are in Texas.
The award is not given annually. Since 2001, the National Institute of Standards and Technology — an agency within Commerce that oversees the program — has presented the award in the education category 10 times, mostly to K-12 districts, with a four-year institution being selected only once in that period.
A guide to improvement
The award honors HCC’s shared commitment, which has resulted in improvements in closing the achievement gap, increasing completion and preparing students for the workforce, HCC President Kate Hetherington said in a press release. For example, the college has increased its graduation rate by 168 percent within two years of entry, from the 2008 to the 2017 entering cohorts of first-time-to-college students. It also tripled the graduation rates for first-time-to-college black/African-American and Hispanic/Latino students within two years of entry.
In addition, the persistence rate — which is the number of students who graduated, transferred, earned at least 30 credits with a cumulative grade point average of 2.0 or above, or were still enrolled at HCC four years after entry — has increased significantly over the past three fiscal years (FY), from just over 75 percent in FY 2016, to over 80 percent in FY 2018.
Attainment of degrees and job placement — both indicators of student success — also have increased. For example, every graduate from seven out of eight of HCC’s health sciences programs — nursing, radiologic technology, dental hygiene, medical laboratory technician, diagnostic medical sonography, emergency medical services and physical therapy assistant — found employment after graduating, according to the college.
HCC noted that part of its success is due to its student support programs, including financial aid, counseling, advisory and tutoring services, 280 flexible format courses and information technology support services.
Following the framework
The Baldrige program provides a framework and standards through which to measure organizational success. Judges evaluate organizations in seven areas defined by the Baldrige Excellence Framework: leadership; strategy; customers; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce; operations; and results. An organization may compete for the award in one of six categories: manufacturing, service, small business, healthcare, education or nonprofit (including government agencies).
Although HCC has won the award, college officials note that the true value is in applying for the award and using it as a performance improvement process.
HCC has applied for the award annually since 2005, said Thomas Glaser, vice president of information technology at the college, whose unit was in charge of submitting the application. He noted that with each application — which he compared to a self-study — HCC and other applicants receive feedback from the review judges on the college’s strengths and areas for improvement. Each year the panel of judges changes, so the examiners — who are not all from the education sector — focus on different areas.
Last year, HCC was recognized by the Baldrige program for its “role-model practices” in leadership. In 2017, the program honored the college for its best practices in the categories of customers and operations. HCC previously received the 2007 U.S. Senate Productivity Award, Maryland’s most prestigious award for organizational performance excellence.
Earlier this year, HCC received an Award of Excellence for its CEO/board relationship from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The college’s board of trustees and Hetherington were noted for making continuous quality improvement a priority, with ongoing self-assessment and evaluation for the board and CEO. HCC also received a 2016 AACC Award of Excellence in the category of community college safety planning and leadership.
This article originally appeared in CC Daily.