Stability and Impact

One school's quest to achieve financial stability and deliver relevance and impact.
As we mark AACSB’s 100th anniversary, there couldn’t be a better time for me to reflect on the future opportunities for business education. In a happy coincidence, the Alberta School of Business also celebrates its centennial in 2016. We have reason to be proud of a 100-year-old business school in a province that celebrated its own centennial just 11 years ago. Like many other institutions, we evolved from a local and narrowly focused professional school to a globally competitive and research-intensive business school. Even so, I believe the most important century of business education in Alberta is the next one.

I predict that the upcoming decade of management education will be characterized by significant challenges and important responsibilities. Two issues, in particular, are top of mind at our school.

The first is achieving financial stability. The government of Alberta faces growing fiscal challenges—as what government does not?—which means our public universities must become more financially independent. This has led us to put more focus on revenue generation, including the development of more cost-recovery programs such as specialized master’s degrees. We’ve successfully created a master’s of finance program and are close to launching one for accounting.

The second issue is delivering relevance and impact. Both are being demanded by multiple stakeholders, including governmental bodies, the private sector, students, and alumni. In response, the Alberta School of Business has targeted four focus areas, including entrepreneurship, leadership, international business, and energy and the environment. These areas resonate with Alberta’s economy and build on existing expertise, while fulfilling the calls for the school to provide relevance to the marketplace.

While it is clear that business schools are well-positioned to respond to both of these challenges, I argue that we also are well-positioned to lead our entire universities in responding. And I think how well we do so will be one key to our future success. Indeed, while it might be tempting for business schools to think of ways they can grow their share of revenue at the expense of other units within a university, I’ve always taken the proverbial approach of “growing the size of the pie.” Let me illustrate with two simple examples.

■ At the Alberta School of Business, we have made entrepreneurship programming one of our focus areas. While students within the business school show a great deal of interest in entrepreneurship classes and experiences, so do students in other programs. Early on, we made the strategic choice to open up many of our extracurricular entrepreneurship learning opportunities to students from across the university. And guess what? This has dramatically increased interest in our entrepreneurship programming, the vitality of our events, and the support of alumni and donors, who are thrilled that we are developing opportunities across faculties and programs. I believe that by offering entrepreneurship programming across the university, we will be more successful in terms of both student achievements and financial results.

■ We also have made general plans to expand our undergraduate teaching. Presently, most of our undergraduate courses are closed to nonbusiness students—because, in our university’s financial model, tuition dollars do not follow students. But the fact that we can’t accommodate demand for business courses severely limits the potential growth of our student numbers, and it also limits the additional value we could provide to students in many other majors.

We believe that if we can increase opportunities for business minors across the university, not only will we provide great benefits to students, but we also will benefit other programs by enhancing their relevance. As students from other programs become more marketable, we expect that the university as a whole will become more attractive to other potential students, thus growing the pie for everyone. Like many changes in university structure and practices, this will be easier said than done. However, we believe this change can fundamentally alter the value proposition for many programs, and thus for our university.

Breaking down silos is not a new goal. However, today’s challenges of revenue generation and societal relevance make it a more pressing goal for business administrators and faculty. I believe this is one area where business schools can and should lead as they plan their curricula for the future.
Joseph Doucet is Dean and Stanley A. Milner Chair Professor at the University of Alberta School of Business in Edmonton, Alberta.