Raising the Volume on the Value of Business Education
Caryn L. Beck-Dudley, President and CEO, AACSB International December 2022
It's easy to criticize higher education, and even easier to forget that within the broader higher education community, there are a multitude of disciplines that excel in creating value that lifelong learners—and employers—demand. Making sweeping generalizations about what’s wrong with higher education (and our universities) doesn’t leave room for individual disciplines to shine.
One of the most critical topics of conversation in higher education is whether the return on investment, ROI, is significant enough to justify the costs. Today, learners are far more discerning about where (and how) they spend their time and resources, and the pursuit of higher education is often sacrificed to satisfy other immediate needs. Misconceptions and criticisms about the quality of education, the credibility of the professors, and the likelihood that the degree will advance one’s career abound—but it’s time to clear the air.
The demand for business education is on the rise. According to global trend data from AACSB’s annual BSQ Programs Module spanning the last five-year enrollment trends (2017-18 to 2021-22), AACSB member schools around the world reported a 24 percent increase in enrollments to their specialized master’s programs, compared to a more modest 16 percent increase in enrollments to their general MBA programs. Executive MBA programs have also grown by 38 percent in the last five years, signaling the value global leaders place on the importance of lifelong learning. AACSB member schools in the United States reported a 24 percent increase in specialized master's program enrollment, an 18 percent increase in MBA program enrollment, but a 5 percent decrease in EMBA program enrollment.
Business schools also stand out from higher education in six areas that directly address the ongoing question of ROI by:
Delivering the highest quality education. AACSB accreditation is globally recognized as the highest standard of quality and continuous improvement in business school accreditation. Not only does it require rigorous, relevant coursework and assurance of learning, but the cyclical nature of the continuous improvement review process ensures business schools remain innovative. There are over 950 AACSB accredited schools worldwide, offering high-quality programs that meet the career advancement needs of learners—and the talent demands of business.
Meeting the needs of global business. The pace of business changes rapidly and creates demand for new skillsets from every employee, regardless of their role. Organizations are more data-driven and collaborative than ever before—and business schools design new programs and enhanced curriculum that prepares lifelong learners for success. Recent reporting from AACSB shows three of the fastest growing graduate fields (in percentage growth) by discipline include data analytics, quantitative methods, and strategic management.
Serving as hubs of connectivity. Business schools extend into the community and build long-term partnerships with businesses, government, non-profit organizations (among many others) that bring innovative opportunities to campus for all disciplines to benefit from—including the sciences, technology, engineering, math, and liberal arts. Engagement, innovation, and impact is about co-creation, and the efforts of business schools span disciplinary and organizational boundaries to lead these activities.
Empowering entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurial spirit inspires success in many economies, and business schools provide the networks, guidance, funding opportunities, and incubators for leaders to launch (or sustain) their businesses. Over the last five years, the number of entrepreneurship programs rose 15 percent globally and 7.8 percent in the United States—nearly all of which was in graduate and non-degree certificates. Not only do degree programs and credentials provide core foundational business knowledge, but business schools offer unique opportunities for entrepreneurs to drive the economy forward.
Offering expanded portfolios of learning opportunities. Gone are the days when ‘traditional’ degrees were considered the apex of the educational experience. In addition to the 2- and 4-year degree, business schools offer robust portfolios of educational opportunities that include part- and full-time learning in remote and hybrid modalities. According to AACSB research, 81 percent of organizations surveyed are using microcredentials for employee skilling and professional development. Those, along with certificates and other modular forms of learning are complementary—rather than competitive—components of business education, giving lifelong learners more options and access to business education than ever before.
Developing societal impact leaders focused on purpose, people, and planet. In connection with business educators, business leaders, learners, non-profits, and government, AACSB is focused on driving positive societal change through the development of a leadership framework and competency structure that –when embedded into curriculum—will have the potential to impact more than four million enrolled students. Today’s learners are tomorrow’s leaders, and AACSB is ensuring that they will be focused on purpose, people, and planet, empowered to make an impact in the communities they serve and around the world.
Criticism, when understood, can be a powerful catalyst for change: it opens the door to discussion, encourages accountability, and drives innovation. It calls on us to evaluate our perspectives through the insights of others and almost always reveals opportunities for improvement. The value of business education should be examined with a critical eye, as it prepares the leaders who drive our global economy and make a positive impact on society. But it’s equally important to highlight the progressive ways business school leaders continue to underpin and augment the value of business education.