Flip through any issue of BizEd from 2003, and you’ll get a quick snapshot of the issues that business schools were grappling with ten years ago. Business schools were replacing their chalkboards with whiteboards, forging global “super alliances,” and taking note of the growing markets for business education in Asia and Africa.
In 2003, members of AACSB International also approved new accreditation standards, drafted by the association’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Accreditation Quality (BRC). Those 21 standards, still in place today, were developed to be more inclusive of global models for business education and place greater emphasis on a business school’s mission and assurance of learning practices.
Fast forward to 2013, when business schools have tackled the assurance of learning challenge, adopted massive open online courses, and opened globally distributed campuses. Given the dramatic changes in the industry, members of the BRC have spent nearly two years once again re-evaluating the market and drafting a new set of standards. AACSB members will vote on these standards at the association’s Inter-national Conference and Annual Meeting on April 8.
The BRC released the draft of its recommended standards in Fall 2012. (See “The Proposed Standards at a Glance” on page 29.) Since the draft’s release, BRC members have moderated plenaries and breakout sessions about the proposed standards at conferences worldwide, including AACSB’s Annual Accreditation Conference in Atlanta last September. Not surprisingly, members have asked many questions about the content and implementation of the proposed standards. This article examines how the BRC has responded—and how the association hopes the standards will shape the future of business education.
FAQs for the BRC
The proposed standards still emphasize quality and assurance of learning, but they also place increased emphasis on three other areas: innovation, impact, and engagement. Under this frame-work, schools pursuing accreditation should be prepared to demonstrate to their peer review teams not only how well their programs support their stated missions, but also how their programs have achieved innovation, impact, and engagement through their teaching, research, and service.
All of the BRC’s recommendations have generated lively discussion and debate. However, four areas have garnered the most attention. They include the BRC’s proposed standards pertaining to mission, impact, and innovation (Standard 1); intellectual contributions, impact, and alignment with mission (Standard 2); executive education (Standard 14); and faculty qualification and engagement (Standard 15). Here are the BRC’s responses to members’ most frequently asked questions:
In general, what are the biggest changes that the BRC is proposing?
Perhaps the biggest change is that the BRC has reduced the number of standards from 21 to 15. They did so by eliminating redundancies that required schools to address issues such as curriculum management and faculty qualifications in multiple standards.
In addition, the proposed standards place an even greater emphasis on mission. Under proposed Standard 1, each school must articulate “a clear and distinctive mission.” A school’s responses to all 15 proposed standards should then demonstrate how its programs and activities support that mission.
Finally, these standards ask schools to demonstrate how their curricula, intellectual activity, and financial models promote innovation, make an impact on the communities they serve, and engage with their stakeholders.
How will AACSB ensure that peer review team members are trained to apply the standards consistently, particularly related to subjective concepts such as innovation and impact?
Peer review team members will receive rigorous training, which will focus on the mission-based philosophy of accreditation and the application of the standards. The association will deliver this training in both face-to-face and online formats. This will ensure that peer review team members apply the standards consistently, even as they interpret the standards against the different models and missions of different schools, explains Bob Reid, AACSB’s chief accreditation office.
Reid adds, “We won’t be saying, ‘Here’s the standard and here’s what it means.’ Instead, we’ll be saying, ‘Here are some examples, and here are these situations. Let’s discuss how you might interpret the standards in these cases.’” He emphasizes that teams will be trained to look beyond whether schools have “met the minimums,” and instead evaluate whether schools have fulfilled their stated missions; achieve high quality; and demonstrated innovation, impact, and engagement in their programs.
How will peer review teams measure impact?
Impact refers to how a school’s activities have garnered attention, improved teaching, or changed business practice, Reid explains. A five-page appendix in the BRCs recommended standards provides many indicators and examples to help schools assess impact, including awards for research related to a school’s mission, article downloads, grants, media citations, and invitations to faculty to present at conferences. Research that effects change in public policy could also be a measure of impact—per-haps even more so than academic research that has been only narrowly distributed.
In the accreditation process, a peer review team usually looks at a school’s activities during the last five years. However, when it comes to impact, that window could expand to ten or even 20 years, BRC members have noted, because a study written 20 years ago might only now be garnering attention for its contributions to industry.
Must all of our faculty members’ work, which would be reported under proposed Standard 2, be directly related to our mission?
No. The intent of proposed Standard 2 is for schools to demonstrate how a portfolio of a school’s work—in the aggregate—supports its mission. For instance, the portfolio of a school whose mission is heavily based in research might lean heavily toward discipline-based scholarship and editorships, while the portfolio of a school whose mission is based in teaching might lean heavily toward pedagogical scholarship and textbook authorship. But the standards are flexible enough t allow for a school to support a variety of activities.
Why has executive education been given a separate standard?
Under current standards, schools whose programs skew heavily toward executive education could have a majority of their activities excluded from consideration during the accreditation process. Under proposed Standard 14, schools now have the opportunity to show-case that part of their programs.
“The current standards mention executive education only in terms of saying, ‘If you’re doing exec ed, make sure you’re causing no harm to your other degree programs,’” says Reid. “In the new standards, we ask, ‘If you have exec ed programs, how do they align with your mission, and how do these programs benefit your school?’
Reid also emphasizes that, unlike the other standards, proposed Standard 14 begins with the words “If applicable…” Schools would have to address this standard only if executive education generates 5 percent or more of their annual resources.
What if, given our financial structure, we cannot easily determine if executive education generates 5 percent of our annual resources?
The 5 percent figure is meant to be only a general measurement of executive education’s importance in a school’s programs. A school can look at several factors—such as revenue generated by, funding received from, or students served by the program—to determine whether its executive education program meets the 5 percent threshold. In fact, some schools may choose to apply the standard even if their executive education activities currently fall below 5 percent—especially if exec ed is an area they wish to develop.
Stephen Watson, a life fellow at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, reassured attendees at September’s conference that the standards require only a reasonable estimate, noting that “most schools know if more than 5 percent of their programs is executive education.” If it comes down to a single course pushing a school over the 5 percent threshold, then this standard probably does not need to be addressed in accreditation reports.
How will peer review teams evaluate executive education programs?
Reviewers will look at the scope of the program to determine whether executive education enhances or detracts from each school’s degree programs. Questions they’ll explore include, “Is the school applying resources in a way that reflects the importance of exec ed in its programs? Does the delivery of exec ed courses increase faculty effectiveness or distract faculty from other more important obligations? Are the school’s undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs enhanced, or do these other programs suffer? Is exec ed an integrated part of the school’s mission, or is it simply a means to generate revenue?” In each case, the review team will look for how much execu-tive education makes a positive impact on a school’s program and how well it aligns with its mission.
How do the faculty designations of academically qualified (AQ) and professionally qualified (PQ) change under proposed Standard 15?
The guidelines ref ect the fact that faculty possess diverse academic backgrounds and engage in a variety of activities consistent with the missions of their schools.
The designations of academically qualified and professionally qualified are replaced with four new categories:
Scholarly Academic (SA): A faculty member with a research doctorate degree who is engaged in discipline-based research.
Practice Academic (PA): A faculty member with a research doctorate degree who sustains relationships with business via consulting or other professional engagement activities.
Scholarly Practitioner (SP): A faculty member with significant practice-based experience who also engages in substantial discipline-based scholarly activity.
Instructional Practitioner (IP): A faculty member who draws from previous and current professional experience to teach subjects in his or her expertise.
These four new categories recognize discipline-based, practice-based, and pedagogical scholarly activities. At the September conference, Matthew O’Connor, dean of the School of Business at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, noted the example of an accounting professor who had earned his doctorate a long time ago and conducted academic research earlier in his career. Recently, this professor wanted to augment his academic knowledge by educating himself on the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Today, he delivers workshops and presentations on IFRS to accountants throughout his region.
This professor is making an impact, and yet “we don’t have a category for him under the current accreditation standards,” O’Connor says. Under the proposed standards, this professor, who is most likely still qualified to teach undergraduate accounting, would be a practice academic (PA).
The BRC also recognizes that, over time, a faculty member might migrate from one category to another. For instance, an instructor with significant business experience might start out as an instructional practitioner (IP), but begin working with colleagues on sign if cant academic research. That professor could then be classified as a scholarly practitioner (SP). There probably aren’t very many faculty at business schools today who would fall under the SP category, says BRC member Jan Williams. But if approved, the BRC’s recommended standards could help schools develop this group as a vital resource.
What about faculty who fit more than one—or none—of the four categories?
The guidelines are not meant to force individuals into one category or another. They are meant to reflect the fact that faculty possess diverse academic backgrounds and engage in a variety of activities that are consistent with the missions of their schools. Under the proposed standards, at least 40 percent of a school’s faculty should consist of SA faculty. At least 60 percent should be a combination of SA, PA, or SP faculty. According to BRC members, these ratios elevate the importance of scholarship while giving schools the flexibility to achieve the standard in ways that suit their missions.
At least 90 percent of faculty should be a combination of all four categories. That leaves an “Other” category of 10 percent for faculty who might fall outside these classifications. For faculty who fit multiple categories, the school should decide which classification best describe their activities and how those activities support the school’s mission.
How will the contributions of SA faculty be quantified? Do SA faulty still need two publications in peer reviewed journals (PRJs) over five years?
Since the current standards were adopted in 2003, many schools have defined an AQ faculty member as someone with a doctorate degree in his or her discipline who has published at least two scholarly articles in peer-reviewed journals over five years. However, this measure has never appeared as a requirement or guideline in AACSB’s cur-rent accreditation standards.
The association would like peer review teams and schools to move away from using the number of PRJs as a substitute for examining faculty qualifications, explains Mar Rice, dean of the School of Business at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts. “We want to avoid the mistake we made last time, where we collectively somehow decided that two PRJs in five year was the number,” he says.
Under the proposed standards, schools must demonstrate that their faculty members are engaged in scholarship in ways that make a positive contribution to their programs, he says. “We’d rather see faculty publish one high-impact article that shows up in a journal read by other practitioners and academics than ten that show up in third-tier journals that no one ever reads.”
Will it hurt our chances for accreditation if practitioners or individuals with nonbusiness degrees, such as law or communications, teach some of our courses?
The BRC is focused on two factors: whether these individuals are well-qualified to teach their courses and whether a school’s faculty portfolio clearly supports the school’s mission. “The managing partner of a top-30 accounting firm is qualified to teach advanced auditing class to MBA students,” says Rice. “A 30-year-old junior accountant could be effective at teaching an introduction to accounting class to under-graduates.” He adds that such choices do not hurt—and could even help—schools as they pursue accreditation, as long as they have the “right people teaching the right topics to the right students.”
How does the focus on intellectual contributions, impact, and alignment with mission under proposed Standard 2 interact with the focus on faculty qualification and engagement under proposed Standard 15?
While both standards are concerned with the impact a school has on its students and business practice, they actually focus on two separate issues. Proposed Standard 2 considers the intellectual contributions the school supports and produces as a whole and the difference those contributions make in the field. B comparison, proposed Standard 15 considers the qualifications, initial academic preparations, and ongoing engagement activities of individual faculty members.
The diverse activities of faculty can help ensure—in a range of ways—that a school’s overall intellectual contributions make an impact.
Why is there no separate standard for online education, given how important this delivery model has become?
Early in the process, BRC members planned to write a separate standard for distance education. However, as their discussion evolved, they realized that “distance education” refers to many types of teaching: synchronous, asynchronous, blended, and 100 percent online. It is becoming more difficult to draw the line between face-to-face and online delivery models. Moreover, any standard that focused on the technologies and delivery models in use today could be obsolete a few years from now.
For that reason, the BRC chose to focus on whether the educational model that a school chooses for a particular course—regardless of method—is effective to achieve its goals. This issue is covered by several standards, including proposed Standard 12: Teaching Effectiveness. It’s also covered by standards that focus on alignment with mission, faculty qualifications, faculty prepration, student-faculty interaction, curricular management, curricular content, and other areas.
“Teaching effectiveness is going to be an important part of the process,” says Rice of WPI. “We must recognize that there is a proliferation of learning models, and the standards must say, ‘You have to demonstrate that whatever model you choose delivers quality.’”
Although distance education does not have a separate standard, its importance did inspire a change in wording in the standards, explains Reid. In its early drafts, under the eligibility criteria, the BRC referred to the educational environment as a “collegiate setting.” In the most recent version, that phrase has been changed to “collegiate environment,” says Reid.
“Some people interpret the term ‘collegiate setting’ as referring to a traditional bricks-and-mortar campus,” says Reid. “We made the subtle change in wording because we want to refer to the engagement that exists between faculty and faculty, and faculty and students, in a high-quality learning environment, regardless of the delivery model.”
“Tell Your Story”
If members approve the adoption of the 15 proposed standards, schools can expect AACSB to roll them out over the next three years. Schools scheduled for peer review team visits in the 2013–2014, 2014–2015, or 2015–2016 academic years can choose to do so under either the current or new standards. The new standards would apply to all schools scheduled for peer review team visits beginning with the 2016–2017 academic year. In the years that follow, the association also plans to prepare case studies on how different schools successfully demonstrated their activities in the three areas so integral to the new standards: innovation, impact, and engagement.
“Five years from now, schools will be able to talk about what has worked when it comes to creating impact or measuring quality,” says Reid. He adds that as these examples become available, AACSB will distill them into white papers and incorporate them into peer review training sessions.
But while Reid emphasizes the need to provide schools with models that work, he doesn’t want schools to view those models as set approaches—as boxes to “check off” on their way to accreditation. “Many deans want black-and-white answers in a world that has become increasingly filled with gray areas, says Reid. “With these standards, we’re trying to foster innovation. If the standards are too prescriptive and too quantitatively driven, we will only create barriers to innovation. There are different missions and models, which schools can choose to execute in different ways. We don’t want to impose a set of metrics across all schools. ”
Throughout these conversations, BRC members have urged educators to view the proposed standards as an opportunity to “tell their school’s story.” Regard-less of whether it’s through curriculum, centers of research, com-munity outreach, or interactions with corporations or government, “we all have to be better at telling our story about what impact we’re having,” says George Krull. A panelist at the September conference, he works for audit, tax, and advisory firm Grant Thornton. Heasks, “What difference would it make if your school didn’t exist?”
In the end, the BRC hopes these standards will not only simplify the accreditation process, but also give schools the flexibility they need to take risks, embrace innovation, and seek out more opportunities to have a real impact on the practice of business.