Why it makes good business sense for schools to earn their accreditation

A recent report by Bloomberg Businessweek found that the number of smaller business schools accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) — many of them based outside the U.S. — has skyrocketed in recent years. The article noted that online education and changing demographics may put some business schools out of business in the years to come, particularly those schools without strong reputations.

Smart Business spoke with Andre van Niekerk, Ph.D., dean of Woodbury University’s School of Business, about accreditation and the state of business schools in 2014.

What is required to create and sustain effective academic programs in business? 

First and foremost, it’s essential to achieve and maintain high standards. With less than 500 undergraduate and graduate students in our School of Business, it’s a legitimate question how an institution like ours can compete against business schools with student bodies that number in the thousands and endowments many multiples of that of our entire university.

Woodbury recently completed a seven-year quest to achieve AACSB accreditation, a status conferred on fewer than 5 percent of business schools worldwide. The accreditation process proved to be an education in its own right. While it’s still quite fresh, it’s already evident how the experience can transform the way a school thinks about its future and about professional education in general.

How has it made a difference, and how do you see it playing out in the future?

Accountability is as vital in business as it is in education, which is why the accreditation process is such a strategic step for any professional school. Our school’s mission is to cultivate the distinctive talents of each student to prepare future leaders of business who communicate effectively, act ethically and think globally.

The model of values-based and ethically driven business education is predicated on building lifelong relationships and networks that will aid students’ future success and provide them with the tools to be effective and valued members of society. The accreditation process can play a significant role in helping schools understand how to apply their mission to today’s global business environment.

Robert Reid, a former dean of James Madison University’s College of Business — and now chief accreditation officer at a nonprofit — recently told Businessweek that the growth in AACSB-accredited schools is ‘a reasonable proxy’ for interest in management education.

What does accreditation mean to the business community?

It means that businesses can count on that school to deliver consistent quality across the board. Accreditation mandates standards that touch virtually everyone and everything at the school — students, faculty, curriculum, alumni. At Woodbury, the accreditation process dovetails nicely with quality improvement measures that are now part of our school’s DNA, a direct result of President Luis Calingo’s experience in quality management.

Since 1997, Calingo has served as a member of the Board of Examiners of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the country’s highest award for quality and performance excellence. Although the accreditation process began several years before his arrival at Woodbury, the systems his administration has put in place allow the school to maintain these high standards.

How receptive are companies to business school graduates, especially MBAs?  

Businesses want to work with students whose standards are as high as their own or higher — that’s a big reason why we wanted to raise the bar.

The student experience — small class sizes, one-on-one mentoring, opportunities for coursework in a variety of disciplines — is what sets our School of Business apart, and why graduates from this kind of environment remain so attractive to employers.

For both graduates and undergrads, accreditation immediately finds its way onto resumes and CVs, increasing both the value of the school’s business degree and the appeal it has to companies.


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