How the 2020 Standards Promote Collaboration

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Monday, May 10, 2021
By Stephanie Bryant, Joseph DiAngelo
Photo courtesy of the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University.
AACSB’s revised accreditation standards encourage schools to pursue more partnerships, both on their own campuses and with other institutions.

One of the most enriching experiences business students can have is stepping beyond the confines of their own colleges, campuses, or countries to complete some of their studies. Through collaborations between higher education institutions, students can gain international exposure or explore distinct fields that have close connections to business. Such partnerships have gained even more importance as business has become increasingly global in nature and as business schools look for ways to have greater positive impact on society.

But until recently, it was not a simple process for AACSB-accredited schools to create partnerships with other institutions. Accredited schools found the reporting structure to be extensive and labor intensive—and when they included all their partnerships in their accreditation reports, they sometimes saw negative effects on their faculty qualifications ratios and assurance of learning requirements.

The 2020 accreditation standards changed all that, and for the better. In this article, we’ll discuss what kinds of collaborations exist and how AACSB views them. Then, we’ll take a look at how one school has created partnerships that support its mission.

First, Some Definitions

For accreditation purposes, AACSB considers that collaborations fall into two categories: agreements that exist between two or more institutions, and cross-disciplinary agreements that exist between units of a single institution. The 2020 business accreditation standards create space for partnerships of both types to flourish while still emphasizing high-quality learner outcomes.

Partnerships between institutions. Collaborative agreements between institutions can take many forms, and the terminology can be somewhat confusing. For that reason, AACSB’s standards adopt the language and provisions of EQUAL, a European forum that works toward common opinions and guidelines related to quality assurance in management education.

The 2020 standards list and define eight specific types of collaborations: joint degrees; consortium degrees; dual/double degrees; articulation, twinning, top-up, or progression agreements; validation arrangements; franchises; study abroad/exchange programs; and offshore arrangements. For each type of collaboration, the standards specify whether the business coursework from the partner school must be included in the scope of the school seeking accreditation. (For a full description of each type of collaboration, see page 14 of the 2020 business standards.)

Under the 2020 standards, two types of agreements receive more flexible and favorable treatment: dual degrees and top-up programs. In dual-degree arrangements, learners take courses at two schools and earn a degree from each institution. In top-up programs, learners at one school can transfer up to two years’ worth of coursework to a second school and receive a degree from the final institution. Top-up arrangements are common in Europe.

Under previous accreditation standards, both of these types of collaborations would have been deemed “in scope.” That is, a school seeking accreditation would have had to include in its accreditation tables the faculty teaching the business classes at the partner institutions. In addition, partner schools would have had to provide formal assurance of learning. Since some institutions have many global partners, the accreditation burden was so significant that it deterred some schools from entering into collaborative agreements.

Because AACSB recognizes how much learners benefit from collaborative cultural experiences, the new standards allow for partner schools to be excluded from the scope of accreditation.

Because AACSB recognizes how much learners benefit from these collaborative cultural experiences, the new standards allow for partner schools to be excluded from the scope of accreditation. Instead, an AACSB-accredited school is allowed to describe how it ensures quality at the partner school. If the partner is also AACSB-accredited, quality is assumed, since that institution is also undergoing continuous improvement review. This flexibility celebrates and promotes cooperation on the global stage.

Partnerships within institutions. The new standards also embrace interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary work within AACSB-accredited institutions. For instance, multiple departments within a business school might collaborate on double degrees. Or the business school might partner with other colleges at the university to allow business majors to pursue concentrations, specializations, or second degrees outside of business altogether.

As an example, a growing trend in business education is to offer a business degree with a STEM emphasis. A dual degree in business and engineering is offered by a number of schools, including Harvard University, Texas A&M, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kentucky, among many others. Another popular dual-degree option, as we’ll see below, is one that links business and healthcare.

Case in Point: The Haub School of Business

One school that has taken advantage of the new flexibility in the standards is the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University (SJU), a Jesuit institution in Philadelphia. The business school has an intense focus on supporting the common good and upholding Ignatian values, which include an insistence upon ethical decision making, a desire for social justice, and a sense of concern for others. While the school has a long history of establishing partnerships as a way to embody its mission, it recently has embarked on new collaborations that have been enabled by the updated standards.

In 1998, the Haub School launched a focus on the pharmaceutical industry with a specialized MBA. Since then, the program has evolved to cover areas such as medical products and pharmaceutical research. The school also has collaborated with a number of other organizations, launching an online program in 2002 with a cohort from Pfizer and a healthcare focus in 2013 with Lancaster General Hospital. In 2018, the Haub School began a partnership with the American Osteopathic Association.

Today, the Haub School offers an undergraduate major, a specialized MBA, and a post-master’s certificate focusing on pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing. Many of the faculty who teach in these programs previously were practitioners working as pharmacists, lawyers, pharmaceutical executives, medical doctors, and drug researchers.

Learners come from hospitals, medical associations, and pharmaceutical and medical products companies. Some 250 students are enrolled across the undergraduate and graduate offerings. They have opportunities for internships and job placements with pharmaceutical, medical device, diagnostic, and biologic companies, including Galderma Laboratories, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer, and Sanofi-Aventis. They also are exposed to organizations that support the industry, such as advertising agencies, data management companies, and clinical organizations.

In 2019, the Haub School launched a cross-disciplinary pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing MBA program in collaboration with the School of Pharmacy at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM). While PCOM delivers the technical courses that familiarize students with the science of the pharmaceutical industry, the Haub School provides the core business courses and an array of pharma marketing electives. Through their studies at SJU, students are expected to gain leadership skills, knowledge of functional business disciplines, critical thinking and problem solving skills, interpersonal and communication skills, a familiarity with Ignatian values, an understanding of doing business in a global economy, and respect for diverse populations and cultures.

Because students are exposed to both marketing concepts and the pharmaceutical industry, they are prepared to become managers and senior-level executives in drugstore chains such as CVS and in pharmaceutical divisions of national food chains such as Wakefern. They also can take jobs as communications and public relations professionals, market researchers, data analysts, regulatory analysts, sales representatives, trade/supply chain analysts, or executives within pharmaceutical corporations.

The Haub School currently is exploring new opportunities with other institutions. For instance, SJU is in the final stages of a tentative merger with the University of the Sciences, a Philadelphia institution that delivers a plethora of healthcare offerings, including a physician assistant program. It also houses the oldest pharmacy school in the United States.

These new strategic opportunities have been made possible in large part because the revised 2020 standards removed the reporting barriers that previously stifled their introduction.

In addition, the pharmaceutical/healthcare MBA is poised to expand to include additional interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary options that will serve the healthcare industry. New options are designed to appeal to students in medical school and practicing physicians in healthcare settings.

These new strategic opportunities have been made possible in large part because the revised 2020 standards removed the reporting barriers that previously stifled their introduction. There is no requirement for industry-specific nonbusiness courses offered through PCOM to be included in the AACSB accreditation reports for faculty qualification purposes, and both learning goals and expected outcomes are established at the degree level.

Such flexibility removes the fear that cross-disciplinary partnerships and collaborations will negatively impact the school’s accreditation numbers for reporting purposes. The business school maintains assurance of learning over the degree program, and learners and society benefit because the program produces graduates who have both an intense business foundation and deep industry knowledge.

Prepared for Impact

If business education is to be a player in solving some of society’s grand challenges, it will not be through siloed discipline-specific work. It will be through thoughtful and innovative partnerships between and within institutions. AACSB’s 2020 standards pave the way for accredited business schools to design a wide range of partnerships without fearing these collaborations will have a negative impact on their accreditation status. These revised standards reflect both the global nature of business and the association’s vision of business as a force for good.

AACSB currently accredits more than 900 institutions in more than 50 countries and territories. More than 275 additional schools currently are seeking initial accreditation. If these business schools can create unique new programs by partnering with other colleges—on another corner of the campus or in another part of the world—just imagine what kinds of opportunities they could offer to their students. Just imagine how much impact those schools, and those students, could have on society.

Stephanie Bryant
Executive Vice President and Global Chief Accreditation Officer, AACSB International
Joseph DiAngelo
Dean, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph's University
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