Sunday, November 23, 2008

Standard Fare

The Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) is a twenty year-old global accrediting body for teaching-focused institutions of higher learning in the field of business. My trip to Kansas City was to attend a meeting of the ACBSP's Baccalaureate/ Graduate Board of Commissioners, of which I am a member. We commisioners read the self-studies of member institutions applying for accreditation of their business programs, read the feedback reports from visitation teams (peer reviewers), read the institutional responses to those feedback reports, then recommend accreditation, conditional accreditation, or deferral of accreditation. The schools that receive accreditation usually are initially given conditional accreditation, meaning that the Board requires that to maintain their accreditation beyond three years, they must fix a few remaining shortfalls with respect to the ACBSP Standards and Criteria for Accreditation. An approved application leads to a ten-year professional accreditation of the institution's business programs, on the progress of which each accredited school must report every two years. These biennial Quality Assurance Reports are also read and judged by the Commissioners, in order to ensure that the accredited schools are making progress.

The ACBSP Standards and Criteria are based upon the Baldrige concepts of fact-based management and continuous improvement. The ACBSP was a pioneer in applying these demanding process-oriented criteria to business program accreditation. For its first ten years, the ACBSP allowed accreditation on input measures alone (for example, the percent of courses taught by faculty members with doctoral degrees). In 1998 the Association introduced an alternative path to accreditation based upon outcomes assessments of student learning and stakeholder satisfaction, which required that the institution have a well-defined mission, an identified set of stakeholders, measurable goals with respect to both its mission and those objectives, and a comprehensive plan for assessing outcomes with respect to its mission and objectives. Finally, it had to demonstrate that the results of its assessments were being used constructively to bring about positive changes in the ways in which the institution taught, and in its internal business processes. In 2004, the ACBSP did away entirely with input-based accreditation, and adopted a revised set of Baldrige-based Standards and Criteria. Since 2007, all members applying for accreditation or for reaffirmation of their previous accreditation have been required to do so with respect to these new ACBSP Standards and Criteria.

At its meeting this week in Kansas City, the Baccalaureate/Graduate Board of Commissioners reviewed applications for accreditation or reaffirmation from approximately 15 applicants. Six schools had their applications deferred. These deferred schools will not be pleased, for the self-study process is an arduous one. But these schools had simply come too late to an understanding of the requirements and processes of fact-based management. They had started doing outcomes assessment only in their self-study year, and had no ability to show the Board that their Business Department or School had truly adopted continuous improvement as an operating ethic. One data point does not make for a trend, and the lack of a trend makes the measurement of progress a matter of opinion, rather than a demonstrable fact. The deferred schools will have up to three years to comply, before a whole new self-study will be demanded. They will receive detailed feedback on why the Board deferred their applications. They will be encouraged to work with their assigned Commissioners during that time. All is not lost for them, but they will soon see that the ACBSP means what it says about meeting the standards, and the standards call for three-to-five data points in the measurement of, for example, student learning outcomes.

I am proud to sit on an accreditation board of an Association that takes its quality standards seriously, and that has a backbone. To my colleagues on that Board, I say, "Well done."

(To my friends in Romania I say, "Look out Romania, Flunkin' Duncan is on his way back!")


Brian McDougall said...

Standard ZZZZZZZZZ....
I love it though! Keep it up!!
Go Dolphins!

Anonymous said...

What is amazing life experience! Recently read news that the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest world's largest building. Unfortunately we had no chance to visit it during our visit to Romania.
If you plan to share Romania experience in University, please let me know.
Elena Muzzey

Duncan McDougall said...

Will do, Elena. Sharing the experiences is part of a sabbatical, and I will certainly offer at least one such presentation when I return to PSU in the fall of 2009. Thank you for your comment.

By the way, The Pentagon still wins. At the Parliament in Bucharest, we were told by our guide that Ceaucescu was sorely disappointed to learn that his over-the-top ego trip of a building was NOT larger than that one office building. The Romanians show this building with a mixture of pride in its elegance and shame about its wastefulness, and about the poverty of the country during the years when it was being built.