The Performance Excellence Journey

By: Sharon Clinebell Issue: Education & Workforce Development Section: Inspiration

Student-Focused Strategies That Are High-Touch, Wide-Tech, and Professional Depth

The Performance Excellence In an article about the 2004 Baldrige recipients, USA Today noted, “Business schools preach quality, but Harvard wasn’t the first Baldrige winner for practicing what it preaches.” The only business school to ever receive the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is the Monfort College of Business at the University of Northern Colorado. It is only one of three higher education institutions to ever achieve that recognition.

Although the Monfort College of Business received the Baldrige Award with its second application and its first Baldrige site visit, the beginning of its quality journey began years ago. In 1984, a group of committed faculty met and decided to pursue AACSB accreditation, a special accreditation for business schools. This decision led to many subsequent decisions such as focusing on the undergraduate only niche with a goal to be the best undergraduate business program in Colorado. This commitment to quality led to many milestones. In 1992, Monfort became the first public business school in Colorado to be accredited by AACSB in both business administration and accounting and is currently the only undergraduate program that holds both accreditations. In 2000, the Monfort College of Business was recognized by the Colorado Commission of Higher Education as a Program of Excellence, which is a highly selective and prestigious award. The Monfort College of Business is the only business program to ever earn the Program of Excellence award. In 2004, the College was awarded the Timberline Award from Colorado Performance Excellence and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

In the foyer of Kepner Hall, which houses the Monfort College of Business, there is a piece of art that contains three pillars. The College views those three pillars as symbolizing three pillars of excellence: (1) a singular focus on excellence in undergraduate business education, (2) program delivery of high-touch, wide-tech, and professional depth, and (3) high value. The commitment to excellence in undergraduate business education is a direct result of the decision in 1984 to devote all resources to developing and maintaining an excellent undergraduate business program and to fulfill a niche of undergraduate business education in the state of Colorado.

The Monfort College of Business has a student-focused strategy of high-touch, wide-tech, and professional depth.

High-touch refers to the high-quality faculty/student interaction, which is facilitated by small class sizes. This low faculty-to-student ratio helps the College provide a private school atmosphere at a public school cost. As an undergraduate only program, no graduate assistants are used in the college. Professors teach the classes, work with students on projects, advise students, and serve as advisors to student organizations. Wide-tech refers to the integration of technology throughout the curriculum. The Monfort gift supports the integration of industry-standard technologies throughout the college, including specific technology such as Bloomberg, Standard and Poor’s Research Insight, and other industry-standard technology and databases. By using this technology for classes, students are better prepared to enter the workforce at a high level of performance and some employers report that Monfort students have a shorter learning curve because of this preparation. Professional depth refers to the value Monfort places on professional experience and real-world applications. The Monfort Executive Professor program, which brings experienced professionals to the classroom, has been in place since the early 1990s.

Students and their parents recognize the great value of a degree from the College. The Denver Post noted that the Monfort College of Business was possibly “the best bargain in undergraduate business education anywhere in America right now.” Small class sizes, professors teaching all classes, great student scores on exit exams aligned with lower tuition relative to competitors make the College a great educational value.

University of Nebraska-LincolnThe Monfort College of Business’s student-focused strategy of high-touch, wide-tech, and professional depth leads to a high-quality educational experience for its students, which is reflected in the school’s student-focused results. Another cornerstone of the College has been its long-standing commitment to fact-based decision making through assessment and benchmarking. The College has used assessment tools such as the ETS Business Major Field Exam for many years. Monfort was engaged in benchmarking from the earliest available administration of a business school benchmarking tool. The culture of student focus and fact-based decision making provided a framework for the College for its adoption of the Baldrige model for performance excellence.

When reviewing the Baldrige categories of Leadership; Strategic Planning; Student, Stakeholder, and Market Focus; Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management; Workforce Focus; Process Management; and Results for the College, the common theme is the student-centered framework.


The formal leadership of the College is comprised of the Dean, Assistant Dean, and Directors of each school, which makes up the Administrative Council. However, there is a culture of collaboration, empowerment, and shared leadership. Faculty chair cross-functional teams, which oversee the processes related to curriculum, faculty issues, student issues, and technology and make recommendations to the Dean and the Administrative Council.

Strategic Planning

Given strategic planning is an integral part of business education, Monfort practices what it preaches. The college’s mission, vision, and values are clearly articulated and taken into account when engaging in strategic planning practices. The College recently completed multi-day strategic planning sessions, which utilized standard strategic planning processes such as conducting a SWOT analysis of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats as a starting point for discussions of strategic options.

Student, Stakeholder, and Market Knowledge

The low faculty-to-student ratio facilitates interaction and communication between faculty and students. Formally, students are surveyed each year and at the end of their program to assess their satisfaction with the program. Alumni are also surveyed to assess how well they feel they were prepared for their careers. The College builds relationships with students through functions such as the annual spring picnic for faculty, staff, and students. The College also works closely with community colleges and high schools to both gain and give information regarding prospective students.

Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management.

Based on its mission, vision, and values, Monfort developed Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which are used to assess performance and to identify the need, if any, for appropriate corrective action. The College had been committed to benchmarking since the mid-1990s, predating its interest in the Baldrige Award. The long tradition of benchmarking has been very helpful in the performance excellence journey. The benchmarking data have been used to drive improvements. Data from a variety of benchmarking sources and surveys are collected and assessed and data are provided to the appropriate decision makers.

Workforce Focus

The College uses a variety of rewards and recognition programs for faculty and students to recognize outstanding performance. Students are recognized through scholarships and academic awards. Students vote for their favorite professor in each area. Faculty, through the committee structure, also recognize fellow faculty in areas of teaching, research, and service.

Process Management

The main learning-centered processes such as curriculum and assessment are managed internally within the College through a variety of committees. As a member of the wider university, the College partners with other colleges and departments at the University of Northern Colorado for many support processes, such as facilities, library support, admissions, and career services.

The student-centered processes briefly outlined above yield outstanding results. In 2004, when the Monfort College of Business received the Baldrige Award, its senior students scored in the top 10 percentile of business students nationally on the ETS Business Major Field Exam. Showing commitment to continuous improvement, seniors have scored in the top 5 percentile three of the last five years, with the other two years at the 10 percentile level. ETS only reports at the 5 percentile increments, making 95 percentile the highest score that can be attained. Student satisfaction scores on national benchmarking surveys continue to be in the top 10%. Additionally, students’ response to the question of whether they would recommend the Monfort College of Business to a friend is also in the top 10% nationally.

The students at Monfort continually show their business knowledge in competitions against larger and more well-known schools. Finance students won the competition for growth managers at the annual Redefining Investment Strategy Education (RISE) conference. Marketing students won first place in the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation’s Collegiate ECHO Competition. Tax students compete in a tax challenge and have won the regional conference multiple times advancing to national competition.

Students at the Monfort College of Business have a comprehensive curriculum. Half of the students’ coursework must be non-business courses, resulting in a well-rounded graduate. The business coursework emphasizes solid business fundamental knowledge as well as hands-on learning. Many business classes apply classroom knowledge to real-world applications.

The Student and Foundation Fund (SAFF) class manages an approximately $1 million fund provided by the University of Northern Colorado Foundation.

The class members are held to the same expectations and standards as the professional investment managers. Students must report their results to their client at the end of each semester. Since the class’ inception in 1992, students have generally outperformed the professional managers. Another hands-on learning experience is provided by the Small Business Counseling class, in which students provide consulting services to small businesses. Marketing classes work with real businesses on developing marketing techniques such as direct marketing, marketing research, and advertising. Many other classes use real-world cases and applications in the classroom. Upon graduation, Monfort students have worked with real businesses and have gained professional experience.

The Monfort College of Business supports several student organizations in which students are encouraged to participate. These student organizations provide additional learning experiences and serve as another venue for students to learn about their chosen fields. Guest speakers to the student organizations help students to better understand the career choices available to them. The student chapter of the Financial Management Association holds a career day in Denver at the National Association of Security Dealers (NASD) regional office. Financial professionals from varied backgrounds speak to students about career opportunities. The honorary society, Beta Alpha Psi, hosts a Meet the Firm night for accounting students, where primarily CPA firms meet with students prior to formal recruiting, and a Career Day where Accounting professionals have panel sessions outlining career opportunities in their areas. Beta Alpha Psi also conducted a Fraud and Ethics Day, bringing in experts from a wide variety of business perspectives to speak about ethical issues in business. These are only a few ways that student organizations enrich students’ learning opportunities outside of the classroom.

The Monfort College of Business also partners with the University of Northern Colorado Foundation and other entities to bring well-known business speakers to the campus. Typically, the speaker presents at a luncheon that also includes community members. The speaker also meets with students in a classroom setting. These opportunities allow students to interact with high-level executives.

Although many business schools engage in the same type of behaviors that the Monfort College of Business does, they do not have the same results. The Monfort College of Business’ student-centered focus, the commitment to a results-driven benchmarking and assessment strategy, and fact-based decision making leads to its great results.

The program strategy of high-touch, wide-tech, and professional depth makes the Monfort College of Business a truly exceptional business school.

Sharon Clinebell is the Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Programs at the Monfort College of Business. More information about the Monfort College of Business, including its Baldrige application summary, is available at its website