Why Business School Accreditation Matters

You never served as dean of a business school, so you were an outsider of sorts to the business education world when you started. How did that perspective help you in this role?

It has been a huge help. I went from companies like Exxon and Cameron Iron Works to quasi-government non-profits like the Houston Metro and NYC Transit and the Institute of Internal Auditors. What happens when you move into the non-profit area is the most important thing is your program’s results and the satisfaction of the customer base. I had a business background, was entrepreneurial, had a lot of global travel experience and had created products and services. It was good to have that background and the orientation for successful business endeavors.

But it was also good to have the background of a non-profit where volunteers are critical and you have to understand that the services you provide are more important than the money you make. Having that awareness when I came to AACSB and an affinity for business education helped me assimilate quickly because they didn’t have time for me to walk around for six months and say, “Hi, I’m new.”

To what extent can students rely on accreditation to know they are going to get a solid business education?

The objectives of accreditation are to make sure that the school assures student learning. That process means schools must do annual data reporting, participate in a periodic peer review and follow a set of standards. That is assurance for students that they are getting a good business education, at least we think so. Now on other hand, as you all know, it varies depending on the school. It is not always exactly the same quality of education, but it means the school meets the standards and, obviously, some schools are better than others. At least with AACSB accreditation, students know the school is going to meet a certain consistency of student learning, of faculty quality and a level of engagement with business that the schools are required to do for students as part of curriculum. It is that level of assurance.

If we generalize, especially in the U.S., we have got a lot of providers that are really interested in the government dollars that support higher education. They target students and present them with an easier-to-complete curriculum. I’m trying to shy away from saying all the for-profits are that way because there is the rare non-profit that is not accredited who is modeled like the for-profits. They don’t have clear outcomes, expectations and consistent faculty quality, but they are very effective at marketing. It’s the ones whose ads you see when you turn on Sports Center on TV in the evening, both at the national level and local providers. They are not quality programs and chances are when you graduate from a graduate program like that you haven’t done much more for yourself than your undergraduate degree. The program completion rate is low and it is a buyer-beware environment. When you look at what is an effective validator, you need to put accreditation first.

Should accreditation really matter to an applicant or an employer of business school students?

It really matters to international students, definitely. I believe it does matter to MBA students in most cases. For undergraduates, I think brand and proximity and relationships and alumni are the most important factors. If the student is serious about business at 18-year-old, which is not unusual, than I do think accreditation matters, and I do think they’ll gravitate toward accredited and better-branded schools. Undergraduates are a little harder to influence because they are just not at the point when they are choosing an undergraduate school that they can even comprehend the concept of accreditation, let alone different types of accreditation. For example, regional accreditation is not something you can rely on and on top of that the typical student doesn’t know what regional versus national accreditation means.

I think employers sort of wander around, pardon the expression, fat and happy when it comes to accreditation. Employers know what schools to go to and know the graduates they’ve hired in the past, and that is what motivates them. They just happen to be in almost all cases AACSB- accredited schools. That’s not the first thing employers look at though. We try to help them understand the difference, but when you’re in a competitive business in the U.S., you are just really far off from, “Oh, I need to shop at an AACSB-accredited school.”

Globally, companies recruiting internationally are looking more carefully at the brands they are recruiting from. It is a little coincidental because it almost always happen to be AACSB-accredited schools they look at because the schools who are really serious about AACSB accreditation get the AACSB accreditation. It’s almost a chicken and egg thing.

Are there any changes in AACSB’s accreditation standards you pushed for that you are particularly proud of?

We always emphasized ethics but I wanted the standards to also emphasize social responsibility and commitment to the betterment of your climate and where you operate. I was able to get that through and we had a 100% vote on that change.

Something we added to the standards that is very important is non-degree executive education since we can’t do everything we need to do in an MBA program.  These non-degree programs allow people to build strengths in other areas not covered by the MBA. Prior to 2013, non-degree executive education was off limits. As of 2013, we brought in non-degree executive education certification programs and put it under the auspices of the accreditation standards as long as it met 5% of the school’s budget. Just about every school that offers them meets this. That was a good add because we acknowledged that MBA programs are not sufficient unto themselves.

For the first time we put into the standards three themes: environment, engagement and impact. The engagement piece states that all faculty and students must have engagement with business practitioners during the degree programs.  We did this because you could have a situation where the faculty members stay on campus and have no interaction with the business world or one where students didn’t understand elements of business during the program. We’ve ensured now that students and faculty are engaged in business endeavors and they need to demonstrate how they are making that endeavor.

There have been several big changes, but to me those were the three that had the most long-term impact.

Any pressing issues that you would like to see your successor address?

The big one for me is we still look at programs delivered through technology, such as online and distance programs, the same way we look at face-to-face programs. I just don’t believe that is appropriate because the delivery mechanisms are getting so meticulous and sophisticated. It seems to me that AACSB ought to get out in front and say we are going to explore the potential of technology and make sure that schools understand we look at programs with an eye to maximizing the use of technology. We haven’t done it yet.

The second thing is we still require schools to have a large percentage of academic faculty, and while I think academic faculty are really important, there is no reason schools couldn’t hire more clinical teaching faculty with whom the academic faculty work to make sure objectives are being met. That expands teacher involvement in the school at a lower cost and can really make a big difference in the cost of sustaining a degree program.


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