Small School Advantages in Meeting Accreditation Standards

Tanuja Singh, dean and professor at St. Mary's University Greehey School of Business, discusses the advantages of being a small institution when seeking accreditation.


Small School Advantages in Meeting Accreditation Standards

Christine Clements: [00:00] Tanuja, you've been the dean at St. Mary's University for seven, eight years?

Tanuja Singh: [00:18] Seven years.

Clements: [00:19] Seven years. St. Mary's is a relatively small school among AACSB-accredited schools. What special challenges do you think smaller schools face in meeting the accreditation standards?

Singh: [00:29] It is a perfect question because if you think about it, small schools, more so today than ever before, are being asked to do more. They're being asked to do more with less. You have to be good corporate citizens.

[00:44] Of course, at the same time, you have to show that you are innovative, that you are showing engagement, that you're showing impact, all within the constraints of, say, fewer resources from a faculty perspective. There might be fewer financial resources, and yet, you have to meet the same standards as anybody else. Those are some of the biggest challenges they face.

[01:04] Most of the time when I am doing these visits with other schools, faculty sufficiency is a question because you have fewer faculty, and yet you are teaching lots of courses. Focus for small schools is really, really important. What is it that you do and what is it that you want to be differentiated for?

Clements: [01:23] You mentioned faculty sufficiency. Are there other particular standards that are maybe bigger challenges for smaller schools?

Singh: [01:31] Yes, there are. If you look at, for example, the idea of these days the mission part is really important. The innovation part is really important. The engagement part is really important. Sometimes what happens is, in their rush to do a lot of things, they don't do some of these things well.

[01:51] When you're trying to be everything to everybody, so you have multiple programs, and you have multiple centers, and you have multiple initiatives going on, you're not doing them well. That can be, sometimes, a challenge about being able to demonstrate that what you are doing is mission-specific and that it has the impact and the intention that was in the original charter.

[02:14] You hear the term "mission creep" and then "mission mystery." Both of those things are so true for small schools.

Clements: [02:22] Comment a bit more about what you mean when you say "mission mystery."

Singh: [02:25] Sometimes small schools, particularly from an accreditation perspective, what they would do is, they make very generic statements about, for example, "We do global." These days, doing global is no longer sufficient. Doing global is not a strategy.

[02:44] It is expected that you would be global. It is expected that you would have innovative programs and ideas. Those kinds of things, sometimes ... people make generic statements because under that umbrella falls everything. You can basically say, "Well, we have study abroad programs." Well, you ought to have study abroad programs. There are lots of places that have study abroad programs.

[03:02] What is it that you do well? How does it relate to your mission? For example, if you have a big focus on service, as we do, well then, do all your programs in some measure reflect that part of say, doing service and doing it well?

[03:18] One of the lines I use is, I ask small schools to think, what is it that differentiates you? You should be able to describe that to someone in 90 seconds. Imagine that's your elevator speech. What is it that differentiates you, what strengthens you, and then what sustains you?

[03:37] If you can answer those questions well, I think small schools can do really well.

Filmed September 2016 on site at the Annual Accreditation Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.