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The Exciting Idea of Reimagining Business Accreditation

To address the ever-evolving business school landscape requires that we continuously evaluate and, if needed, change our accreditation standards to meet stakeholder needs.

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.
—Alan Cohen

I’m going to make a bold statement here, especially for someone brand new in my job as chief accreditation officer at AACSB. It’s time for a paradigm shift in business accreditation. Here’s why.

Technology and the Fourth Industrial Revolution are radically disrupting the way instruction is delivered, and a variety of instructional, faculty deployment, and assurance of learning models are emerging that are in some cases very different from the traditional and U.S.-centric model of instructional delivery. Undoubtedly, how education is delivered and learning is assessed in the not-too-distant future will look very different from today.

The market is also demanding graduates with skills related to critical thinking, effective communication and collaboration, and professional interaction over purely technical skills. In the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2018 survey, 201 employers were asked which skills they most valued with respect to new graduates. Problem-solving skills and the ability to work in a team tied for first, followed by written communications skills, leadership, strong work ethic, analytical/quantitative skills, verbal communication skills, initiative, detail-orientation, and flexibility/adaptability, which round out the top 10. Interestingly, technical skills didn’t show up until slot number 11. More and more we are hearing employers say they can often teach technical skills if an individual possesses the ability to think critically and is able to work in the space of ambiguity, solving unstructured business problems.

On the research front, business school research is often viewed as irrelevant to solving real-world problems of industry and society, though some important initiatives exist to help close the gap between the producers and consumers of academic research. Notably, the Responsible Research in Business and Management (RRBM) network, begun in 2014, was formed to address this very problem. RRBM envisions a world where business research improves the well-being of society. AACSB’s 2016 publication A Collective Vision for Business Education also envisions a future where business school scholars are “conveners and partners with industry in knowledge creation, rather than simply being suppliers.”

To address the ever-evolving business school landscape requires that we continuously evaluate and, if needed, change our accreditation standards to meet the needs of future business school students, and society in general. Evaluating standards takes time and that means seeking broad input and support and bringing changes to a vote of the membership. The time is right to begin this conversation and process. To facilitate this conversation, we have assembled a team of highly experienced AACSB volunteers to establish the Business Accreditation Task Force, which will guide our efforts and represent the membership voice.

The Business Accreditation Task Force

Last week we kicked off a 20-month initiative to reimagine business accreditation with the Business Accreditation Task Force (BATF), a 15-member group of deans or higher from around the world, appointed by the AACSB Board of Directors chair, Caryn Beck-Dudley. This group has agreed to serve as emissaries to our members around the world to seek input on how we can change both the processes and standards of AACSB business accreditation to meet the needs of the future.

The BATF is chaired by Geoff Perry, deputy vice chancellor at the Auckland University of Technology, and Nancy Bagranoff, dean at the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond. Under their excellent leadership, we will begin the process of having conversations around processes and standards. At most AACSB events over the next 20 months, you will have an opportunity to interact with BATF members and provide your input. Multiple methodologies will be used, including sessions at AACSB board meetings and conferences; discussions in committee and advisory council meetings; and as part of affinity group, focus group, and live chat interactions. The BATF will take in all input and then make recommendations on changes to the standards.

Opportunities to Explore

An evaluation of business accreditation is likely to focus on how we can improve both processes and standards to keep pace with business and society. The BATF will explore some common questions we hear from the membership, such as:

  • Should we consider a different model for cycle times (i.e., five-year cycles) for accreditation visits?
  • Should there be a risk-based or consultative type of visit for schools that are more mature in their accreditation journey?
  • How can we move toward focusing more on high-quality outcomes and outputs and forward-looking strategy rather than an input-focused, backward-looking system?
  • Should we consider a different model for faculty qualifications and faculty sufficiency that ensures high quality but allows more flexibility in how a school deploys its faculty?
  • Is there a different way to assure high-quality student learning outcomes over the current standards?

The culmination of the 20 months of work of the task force will be a vote of the membership at our 2020 International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM) in Denver, Colorado.

In the immediate future, I invite you to attend the upcoming AACSB 2018 Annual Accreditation Conference in Washington, D.C., September 23 to 25, where you will hear more about the BATF from the task force members and leaders and have an opportunity to provide input.

I’ll leave you with this thought. The world is changing and we must continuously change with it to uphold the standards of high quality for which AACSB accreditation has stood for 102 years. Change is almost always hard, inconvenient, and messy, but we cannot escape change. I hope you’ll help us by including your voice and opinions when the opportunity presents itself. As Gandhi urged, we must be the change we wish to see in the world.

Stephanie Bryant Follow Stephanie Bryant on Twitter @StephMBryant.