Gazing Forward, Glancing Back

AACSB’s 2015-2016 board chair identifies the trends that will shape the future of management education—and the AACSB initiatives that will capitalize on those trends.
Gazing Forward, Glancing Back
As AACSB International officially launches its Cen­tennial Celebration this fall, I feel privileged to be acting as the organization’s chairman of the board. Along with many other members, I am commem­orating this milestone by reflecting on the past, dreaming about the future, and taking a closer look at the association’s mission, values, and vision.

In 1916, when AACSB was founded, 16 business schools—roughly half of those in existence in the U.S. at the time—were invited to join the new association. According to Dale Flesher in The History of AACSB, the organization’s main focus was “the improvement of collegiate education for business,” and schools pursued this goal by attending conferences and visit­ing peer schools. Initial membership standards were adopted in 1917, and minimal dues were assessed to support the all-volunteer organization. That fee of US$25 per year today would be equivalent to $464 if adjusted for inflation.

Today, while it remains a volunteer organization, AACSB has grown to be a highly diverse interna­tional association that’s still deeply committed to its mission of advancing management education. Mission-driven volunteerism is core to our academ­ic community as we seek to serve society by pro­moting responsible generation of wealth, responsi­ble consumption, and responsible innovation.

While the association is best known for accredi­tation, its mission rests on three legs: accreditation, thought leadership, and value-added services. The association provides thought leadership through the work of the Committee on Issues in Manage­ment (CIME), research reports, BizEd magazine, eNewsline, and networking opportunities. The as­sociation offers value-added services through Data­Direct, Bridge programs, mentoring, recruiting, and the sharing of best practices through social media such as myAACSB and The Exchange. Through all of these activities and services, AACSB can benefit its accredited and nonaccredited members alike.

As we celebrate 100 years of AACSB, I’ve been looking at current trends and upcoming challenges that could have an impact on our industry in the next 100 years—and considering how AACSB is poised to meet that future.


The context of business education has al­tered dramatically over the past century, and changes will continue at an ever-in­creasing pace. Here are a few of the ma­jor trends that I expect to see—and that AACSB is already gearing up to meet:

The market will become more com­plex. Businesses will be less hierarchical in the future, but in every other way they will be “more”—more global, networked, fluid, entrepreneurial, diversified, adept at exploiting big data, and reliant on evidence-based management. Simulta­neously, the marketplace for business education will become more global, frag­mented, dynamic, and complex. Generic, homogeneous business education pro­grams will become relics of the past, be­cause the heterogeneous marketplace of the future will demand an ever-changing variety of specialized offerings. Constant innovation will be required as we see the rise of niche markets where business schools can deliver specialized, modular content through a variety of formats to traditionally underserved audiences.

Many of these niche markets will be defined by content, demographics, geography, industry, and occupation. We already have witnessed a prolif­eration of undergraduate majors and specialized one-year, pre-experience master’s degrees.

Many more of these market-focused programs are likely to be launched in the future—but many of them will have shorter lifespans as demand ebbs and flows for particular programs. In fact, I predict that, in the future, program life cycles will be measured by years, not decades. Schools that fail to innovate will be endangered as demand for old programs withers.

Schools will embrace diverse missions, innovations, and models. We are simultaneously seeing the emergence of small startup educational ventures that compete with traditional programs and the growth of truly global business schools with immense size, geographic reach, and product mix. Some of these global schools also are scaling up by partnering with other uni­versities, building campuses on multiple continents, and boosting the number of degree programs and executive educa­tion programs they offer.

Geographic diversity will drive visible changes in business educa­tion. As different global regions gain prominence, schools will face increasing demands to contextualize learning expe­riences and school missions.

Just-in-time education will be­come more popular. Both degree and nondegree programs are more likely to target people in the early stages of their careers, when they need to know a great deal very quickly, and in the late stages, when they need to master broader skills to make strategic job changes. Schools also will put greater emphasis on life­long learning to deliver education as the needs of alumni change.

Along the same lines, more business schools will start offering competen­cy-based education for cost-conscious consumers, for employers looking for external validation of competencies, and for test developers hoping to create valid, broadly accepted methods of certification.

The classroom will become less central to learning. Student surveys show that students already believe up to 80 percent of their most valued learning experiences occur outside the classroom. To capitalize on that fact, schools are developing more co-curric­ular activities and looking for ways to integrate experiential learning with core learning objectives.

More learning also will take place outside of the classroom through digital course delivery. In the future, more schools are likely to rely on massive open online courses (MOOCs) and small private online courses (SPOCs) to deliv­er core content, introductory materials, and basic competencies. Others will employ high-quality video production teams to film free-agent faculty su­perstars teaching the basics of debits, credits, statistics, and ROI. As digital education matures, it will flexibly target multiple learning styles to individualize learning much more effectively than our classrooms of the 20th century.

Everyone will collaborate. In the fu­ture, we’re likely to see more team-based development of both education and research. No longer will a single highly paid faculty member deliver a course; instead, teams of professors will bring their complementary skills to integrated courses, frequently working with other educational staff members to design course materials, tutor students, and offer career coaching. Specialized re­search staff also may help scholarly ac­ademics collect data, analyze statistics, and edit copy. The team-based approach will result in higher student-to-faculty and staff-to-faculty ratios; it also will allow schools to leverage the high costs of faculty resources and allow them to deliver education and thought leader­ship more efficiently.

Other types of partnerships will char­acterize the business school of the fu­ture. Many schools already are working with outside vendors who can provide specialized services in areas as diverse as marketing digital courses, developing competency-based education modules and certificate programs, recruiting students, handling social media, and operating foreign exchange programs.

The responsibilities of business schools will expand. In the future, busi­ness schools will become increasingly important in their communities as they challenge the role of business in society and reshape expectations of manage­ment education. Already, industry looks to business schools for help in creating sustainable economic, social, and envi­ronmental value. I expect that trend will only get stronger.


I believe it’s important that AACSB help its member schools not only react to these trends, but shape these trends as they evolve. The association is well-positioned to further that goal in several key areas:

Market segmentation. The associa­tion recognizes that the competition for students is becoming more diverse and global, and its mission-driven accredi­tation process is well-suited to business schools that have different visions, operate in different geographical areas, and target specific market segments. In fact, the 2013 Accreditation Standards encourage business schools to define unique strategic positions and create programs designed to serve a wide range of industries and student populations. No matter what their missions, howev­er, all schools will be expected to meet high standards of innovation, impact, and engagement.

Shifting faculty roles. The 2013 standards divide faculty into four classifications: scholarly practitioners, scholarly academics, instructional prac­titioners, and practice academics. The new faculty classifications offer schools more flexibility to operate in a complex market by allowing them to serve di­verse groups of students in a wider range of formats and programs.

Globalization. AACSB will continue to globalize its conferences and educa­tional offerings. Already, the association is serving the Asian market through its Singapore headquarters, and it is reach­ing out to the European, Middle Eastern, and African regions through its new office in Amsterdam.

More changes are ahead as the association follows three recent recom­mendations made by its Globalization 2020 Committee. One recommenda­tion is to pilot a Global Improvement Network designed to build capacity in emerging economies; it will focus on two or three regions that have cohorts of schools that share similar profiles. Schools will build capacity by working with each other and with volunteer coaches from more established busi­ness schools. The committee also suggested that AACSB provide more relevant and accessible services and expand its role as the central node for global business school information.

New responsibilities. Finally, the association wants to help business schools embrace their expanding roles by facilitating the interactions between business, society, and business schools. For instance, CIME has worked in col­laboration with a variety of conferences such as the Business Education Jam sponsored by Boston University and IBM; the 60-hour online event brought together academics and practitioners last fall to discuss how business schools can adapt to employers’ evolving needs.

In addition, CIME and past board chair Linda Livingstone launched an extensive visioning process designed to make sure business schools engage with the broader community. The visioning process was parsed into three streams: roles of management in society, expec­tations of management education, and opportunities for business schools. The association recently has created a website where it can post key insights on these topics and solicit further dis­cussion.

To join the conversation, visit


As AACSB gears up for the future, it also celebrates the accomplishments of the past. The association’s yearlong Centen­nial Celebration kicked off in April at the International Conference and Annual meeting in Tampa, and it will culminate next April at ICAM in Boston. In the months leading up to this event, we will be launching a website dedicated to the centennial and sharing stories about how AACSB accreditation has trans­formed schools.

We’ll also run competitions designed to showcase the reach and impact of AACSB’s member schools. For in­stance, we’re just now concluding the Influential Leaders challenge, in which members nominated graduates from their schools who have demonstrated an innovative mindset, shown entrepre­neurial spirit, made significant business impact, or brought about dramatic societal change. These notable alumni aren’t all C-suite leaders, but they have positively demonstrated excellence in leadership and impact. The Centen­nial Committee has selected the top candidates, who will be unveiled at the Annual Accreditation Conference held September 20 to 22 in Chicago.

In another challenge, called Innova­tions that Inspire, accredited schools will share the fresh new approaches they’ve taken in these four areas: re­search and scholarship, pedagogy and learning, outreach and engagement, and strategy and administration. Entries can be submitted through December 15. The top innovations will be selected by the AACSB Centennial Committee and recognized at the Deans Conference, which will be held January 31 to Febru­ary 2 in Miami.

We’re also planning a Future Lead­ers Challenge on Twitter, which will invite business students to post tweets explaining how their education has prepared them to change the world. The 100 students who have the most retweets will be announced at the Deans Conference.

At the ICAM event in Boston, the association will recognize the found­ing member schools, honor past board chairs, discuss important historical events, and roll out a vision of the future presented by CIME. We also will prepare a time capsule filled with items contributed by member schools. The time capsule will encourage members to reflect on what business school looks like now and what it might look like in the future. These reflections serve as important reminders of our values, mission, and impact on schools and their alumni.


Reflecting on history deepens our understanding of our culture, our values, our heroes, and our individual and collective identities. Looking at the last century of AACSB, I see a clear message about the value of volunteer­ism. AACSB is a mission-driven, global, highly diverse volunteer organization supported by professional staff. Over the past 100 years, members of the AACSB community have developed a set of shared values that include continuous improvement, collegiality, integrity, mutual respect, diversity, inclusiveness, service quality, social responsibility, and a global mindset balanced with sensitiv­ity to local issues. We show these values through our conferences, publications, daily practices, policies related to con­flicts of interest, and the engagement of volunteers and staff.

Shared values are essential for a mission-driven organization like AACSB. Our thousands of volunteers commit tens of thousands of hours to accomplishing our mission by serving on peer review accreditation teams, participating in Affinity Groups, sup­porting Bridge programs, and sharing best practices. Those shared values are also important when an organization experiences a change in leadership, as it did this year when John Fernandes re­tired and Tom Robinson came on board as CEO and president. But no matter who is in the top position of a volun­teer-based association, the organiza­tion only flourishes when its members are engaged.

I would like to call on all of you to vol­unteer to advance quality management education. By engaging with AACSB and with other schools, you will simul­taneously help others and bring about improvements at your own institutions. Participate in the Influential Leaders Challenge, contribute to the social media discussions, use reports from DataDirect to create innovations at your school, join an Affinity Group, serve on committees or nominate others to do so, learn from your peers at network­ing events, present at a conference, or spread the word about the value of accreditation to stimulate innovation, impact, and engagement. And, if you are a dean or former dean, volunteer to be on a peer review team or act as a mentor for schools entering initial accreditation or preparing for a Continuous Improve­ment Review.

When you volunteer through AACSB, you advance quality management ed­ucation today, strengthen it for tomor­row, and help the association extend its global impact.