Defining Tomorrow

New accreditation standards, an increasingly diverse membership, and the ongoing transformation of higher education will drive activity at AACSB International during  2013–2014. The association’s new board chair examines how all these factors will work together to shape business education in the years to come.
Defining Tomorrow

In a sense, every new academic year feels like a pivotal one for business schools, but I believe that the 2013–2014 academic year is a tipping point for our industry. The landscape is changing, both for management education and higher education, and AACSB International has a definite role to play.

Having been dean at three institutions—Carnegie Mellon University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of California, San Diego—I know how broad the business school community can be. Each school has its own mission, location, funding sources, financial model, faculty mix, and brand. As a result, management education is an increasingly diverse, complex, and competitive field, and it continues to evolve.

More than ever, AACSB recognizes and appreciates the differences among business schools. In fact, the organization’s new accreditation standards are designed to make sure that institutions around the world will focus on innovation, impact, and engagement even as they embody their wide variety of missions. 

I am honored to chair AACSB’s board of directors for the coming year. As I look ahead, I see at least three areas where the association will focus: making a seamless transition to the new accreditation standards; promoting the value of accreditation; and helping to influence positive transformations in the business school industry. I would like to look at these one by one.

Awareness, Support, Education

Earlier this year, AACSB members voted to approve a new set of accreditation standards for the first time in ten years. The standards were developed by the Blue Ribbon Committee, chaired by Rich Sorensen, through a meticulous, open, and inclusive process, and their development was unstintingly supported by AACSB staff and volunteers from around the world.

Now that the new standards have been approved, we will undergo a three-year process of implementation. Between the spring of 2014 and the 2015–2016 academic year, schools will be able to choose whether they want to be reviewed under the 2003 or 2013 standards. After July 2016, all schools will be reviewed under the 2013 standards.

The association will undertake significant, comprehensive efforts to train volunteers and develop awareness programs for prospective schools so they have all the support and education they need to be successful. We will hold information sessions at conferences and events, and we have revised and updated the materials used at the Business Accreditation and Maintenance of Accreditation seminars. Other member training will be offered at the Accreditation Conference, Deans Conference, Assessment Conference, and the International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM).

AACSB also is developing four-hour training sessions for volunteers, and these will be held at the Deans Conference, the Asia-Pacific Conference, the European Advisory Council Meeting, the Accreditation Conference, and regional deans meetings. AACSB’s online resources also have incorporated information on the new standards. The association is doing everything in its power to make sure that, for the first schools accredited under the new standards, the process will go smoothly and seamlessly. 

AACSB wants to accelerate dialogue with its members on three broad areas of transformation: learning and pedagogy, knowledge creation, and financial models

The Value of Accreditation

As AACSB transitions to the new standards, it is imperative that we re-examine the real value of accreditation. The association wants to make sure it clearly brands and articulates the value of AACSB accreditation while it also constructs the messages that will help diverse member schools corroborate that value to their particular stakeholders. This is extremely important.

AACSB has engaged the consulting firm Eduvant is to determine how schools and their stakeholders perceive accreditation. As Eduvantis completes its analysis, AACSB plans to repurpose some of its channels and services to better support schools as they use accreditation to differentiate themselves in their markets. The association wants to become a marketing partner with accredited schools as they communicate with their stakeholders.

So far, our research has shown that a school can profit from accreditation in both internal and external ways. The very process of accreditation requires members to focus on quality improvement, clarify their missions and strategies, and develop high-quality faculty rosters. Schools seeking accreditation also meet with deans on peer review committees and receive one-on-one guidance and insights about similar challenges that other schools have faced.

Schools that achieve accreditation see intangible benefits such a improved reputation and standing in the eyes of stakeholders. They also enjoy measurable benefits including increases in the number and quality of student applicants, improved student retention rates and outcomes, greater partnership opportunities, and new avenues for fundraising.

Schools from different market segments will leverage these results in different ways. If an institution is in an area highly saturated with accredited schools, it must not only emphasize the competitive advantages it has achieved through accreditation, but also differentiate itself on other factors such as mission. If an institution is in an area where few schools are accredited, such as an emerging economy, AACSB accreditation could serve as a strong primary market message. How well AACSB serves its members depends largely on the contributions of the schools them-selves, whether they are distributing press releases, sharing best practices, or participating in surveys. In fact, every time a member completes an AACSB Business School Questionnaire, it contributes to the data pool. The more AACSB knows about its member schools, the better it can align its offerings with the unique needs of its various segments and make definitive statement about management education and the value of accreditation.

The Changing Landscape

As our membership expands and diversifies, AACSB wants to make sure it is inclusive. Therefore, it is creating blogs and using social media to elicit rapid member feed-back on the issues that the association should be focusing on now.

We already know what some of those issues are. The education field is experiencing huge shifts in pro-gram delivery, financial models, student demographics, faculty profiles and classroom technology. AACSB wants to accelerate dialogue with its members on three broad areas of transformation: learning and pedagogy, knowledge creation, and financial models. In other words how do we teach and learn? How do we create knowledge? And what business models do we use?

In the first area, learning an pedagogy, much of the transformation is being driven by technology, which has enabled innovations such as online delivery of traditional programs and massive open online courses (MOOCs). Schools also are redefining the classroom through “flipped” models, where student view video lectures online and complete projects in class; and customized learning paths, which allow students to have a high degree of choice in the courses they take.

In the second area, knowledge creation, we are studying the role of research. Because AACSB now recognizes four types of faculty—scholarly practitioners, scholarly academics, practice academics, and instructional practitioners—we have evolving expectations for the kinds of research faculty will produce and what kind of impact this research will have. Some faculty will focus on a type of knowledge creation that is almost pure science; others will create knowledge that comes from empirical studies that include observations about and engagement with industry; still others will study the way individuals learn. Many different types of contributions to scholarship will need to be recognized and valued.

The third area of interest is the way administrators manage their schools. The new accreditation standards explicitly ask schools if they have sustainable financial models. But, as an organization, AACSB also needs to understand how various business models are being affected by the changing parameters of teaching, learning, and research. How do business schools hire and deploy faculty? How do they generate resources? Are they taxed by their parent universities, and if so, what are the taxation rules? How does the financial model change for public schools and private schools? A diverse membership will have a diversity of funding models. We need to understand how each model affects a school’s ability to achieve its mission in a sustainable way.

There is a fourth area that is also being considered by AACSB’s Committee on Issues in Management Education (CIME): How do we measure the impact of AACSB? Our new standards ask business schools to measure the impact they have had on student learning and knowledge creation; is it time for AACSB to measure the effect it is having on member schools? One way we might do this is by weighing how accreditation has changed the lives of students by contributing to their professional successes. Another way is to look at how AACSB members have benefited industry by improving the education levels of corporate employees.

I think we also could look at ways our members might work within academic communities to make colleges of business more successful and relevant. For instance, how can we facilitate business schools’ collaborations with other units on campus—the engineering schools, the arts and humanities programs, the offices of technology transfer? There are a number of ways business schools can be synergistic and impactful on their own campuses, and AACSB wants to open a dialogue to debate those ways.

What About Tomorrow?

Clearly, AACSB and its members have plenty of challenges and opportunities ahead of them during 2013–2014. I believe this year will be a momentous one for higher education, particularly as technology changes the way universities deliver education and compete for students and funding streams. In fact, many business schools are leading the way at their institutions as they embrace new models of online delivery and global competition. Technology is not only changing the geographic nature of competition, it is also enhancing learning in ways that can be measured, observed—and, most important, demonstrated to employers. In this improved yet radically different model, education occurs alongside employment for “on-the-job learning” instead of “on-the-job training.”

These patterns of change are not subtle, and they are not fads that hit the system and pass. They are leading to permanent, substantive transformations, and our members must decide how best to respond so they can get ahead of the curve.  They can go on the defensive, resisting new developments and clinging to traditions. Or they can go on the offensive, adjusting to or even defining change, addressing new challenges head-on, and determining how new developments can enhance their offerings and align with their missions. I believe that, just as businesses that last for decades are most often those that adapt to the new realities of their markets, the business schools that thrive are those that adapt to an evolving educational landscape.

AACSB and its members cannot wait for change to manifest; rather, we should be contemplating our paths forward. AACSB will help anticipate, envision, and define the educational environment of tomorrow. We will support member schools as they embrace this transformation and boldly move forward.