Benchmarking New Designs for the Two-Year Institution of Higher Education

Publication January 1998

This report is a companion piece to New Designs for the Two-Year Institution of Higher Education (NDTYI). The benchmark studies included in this report focus on learning sites that meet the design specifications for 21st century two-year institutions of higher education as described in NDTYI. The studies are meant to be illustrative rather than definitive in showing how two-year institutions are meeting student and community needs in new, cost-effective ways. The studies also illustrate the use of benchmarking as an organizational transition process–a means toward envisioning more concretely what is desired and the way it can be realized. The purpose of this report is to scan for sites exemplifying new designs in a more comprehensive and systematic way and describe selected sites in a more thorough manner than in the NDTYI final report.

In this study, benchmarking activities focus on particular design elements of two-year institutions. That is, we set out to discover benchmark processes related to each of the steps in the design process advocated in NDTYI. These processes were selected using the design specifications associated with the design element in question. In this way, the resulting benchmark studies preserve the integrity of NDTYI, and their discoveries can be readily implemented in a comprehensive process of organizational change.

The first chapter of this report provides an introduction to the project, “New Designs for the Two-Year Institution of Higher Education.” Sections of the chapter address the purpose of the project, its focus in terms of institutions and motivations, and the research and development process used to achieve its purpose.

Chapters Two through Six present five benchmark studies that illustrate design specifications for various design elements of NDTYI. They deal, respectively, with the design elements of learning process, learning partnerships, learning staff and staff development, learning technology, and learning finance. Each study is organized to discuss the following:

  • The rationale for selecting the benchmarked process in terms of the design specifications associated with the design element in question.
  • The objectives underlying the benchmarked process and how they are defined and communicated in practice.
  • The key features which make the benchmarked process unique and how these are related to the design specifications.
  • The impact realized by the benchmarked process.
  • The future directions planned for the benchmarked process.
  • The design implications or lessons learned that we see in the benchmarked process.
  • The contacts for further information about the benchmarked process. The contacts include the author of the benchmark study report and contacts at the site of the benchmarked process.

Chapter Two presents a benchmark study for the design element of learning process. The Consortium for Workforce Education and Lifelong Learning (CWELL) at San Diego Community College was selected for benchmarking because its conceptual approach is unique, and the project incorporates many of the new design specifications for learning process. CWELL is an innovative project to improve adult education in local contexts and is a collaborative partnership between the San Diego Community College District – Continuing Education Division; San Diego State University – Department of Educational Technology; and the Applied Behavioral and Cognitive Science, Inc. These organizations are working together to meet the needs of new immigrants and undereducated youth and adults for noncollege credit education and training.

Chapter Three presents a benchmark study for the design element of learning partnerships. Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) was selected for study in relation to learning partnerships. FVTC has two campuses and five regional centers which serve a five-county geographic region in Northeast Wisconsin. FVTC is part of the fabric of the community it serves. The college has formed partnerships with employers, agencies, and other educational institutions (both public and private) within the community, the state, and nationally.

Chapter Four presents a benchmark study for the design element of learning staff and staff development. The Miami-Dade Community College (M-DCC) site was selected for study in relation to staff development. This chapter focuses on the special attention given to staff development at M-DCC beginning in 1986 with the initiation of the Teaching/Learning Project. From the start of the project, the central commitment was to improve learning for all students and the focus, while starting with faculty, soon moved to include all staff.

Chapter Five presents a benchmark study for the design element of learning environment, focusing specifically on technology. To facilitate breakthrough modeling and application of NDTYI relating to the element of learning environment, the Higher Education and Advanced Technology (HEAT) Center at Lowry: A Colorado Community College and Occupational Education System Innovation, was chosen as a benchmark site because of its exemplary practices in the area of technology in the learning environment. The HEAT Center at Lowry is a developing education center housed on the site of the former Lowry Air Force Base. While in a continuing process of renovation and expansion, the HEAT Center at Lowry now is the site for delivery of programs offered by six participating community colleges. The HEAT Center at Lowry also provides training and assistance through private sector alliances and affiliated baccalaureate and graduate colleges and universities.

Chapter Six presents a benchmark study for the design element of learning finance. The design specifications for learning finance proposed in NDTYI served as the basis for selecting Sauk Valley Community College (SVCC) located in Dixon, Illinois, as the site for this study. The effective design of SVCC’s financial structure is evident not only in its strong financial ratios, but also in the college’s physical environment. SVCC also has an effective program review process which ensures that resources are allocated in areas that add the most value to the college.

The final chapter of this report presents a summary and implications of the benchmarked studies. The design process described in NDTYI provides a helpful framework for assessing the utility and value of the benchmarked processes. Each of the design specifications can be viewed as a standard against which the potential contributions of a benchmark can be evaluated. By reviewing these specifications for each design element, the two-year institution can make informed decisions concerning organizational change and innovation.

Benchmarking is only the starting point for organizational change. It opens the door to considering something other than “business as usual” by showing the two-year institution how other institutions serve their stakeholders in unique ways. Benchmarking provides a baseline and pathway for authentic change in that it defines processes that “work.” They are not exercises in “what might be”; they are real activities that deliver outcomes demanded by students and the larger community.

Copa, G. H., & Ammentorp, W. (1998, January). Benchmarking new designs for the two-year institution of higher education. Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education.

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