DEANS OF BUSINESS

The value of business education

Posted Oct. 28, 2011, at 5:04 p.m.

Business schools came to being in the early 20th century in response to corporations’ need for employees with particular sets of knowledge and analytical capabilities. Corporations at the time were mushrooming in various industries, from car manufacturing to railroads to chemicals to banks, and were starting to define the products we buy.

Love it or hate it, most things we consume require the coordination of human effort that goes well beyond the abilities of an individual or a family, which is why complex business organizations are commonplace today.

In the recent couple of decades, business education has become geared not only to the world of established companies but increasingly to the entrepreneurial world as well: to those innovators who turn an idea into spectacularly growing businesses and provide most of the growth in employment. Business graduates also are sought by government and nonprofit organizations.

What is business education?

A business education is a professional education that provides knowledge in diverse areas, some of them ancient (such as accounting), while others are nascent (the management of innovation, for example). Business students understand the language of marketing, finance, accounting, management and other specific disciplines, specializing usually in at least one of them. However, a business degree not only marks a set of skills that are applicable to the corporate or entrepreneurial world, it also is an indicator that graduates have a solid general education foundation in the humanities and natural and social sciences. Business graduates are skilled in written and oral communication, capable of critical thinking and experienced in tackling challenging tasks. They understand business ethics and seek to produce not only profit but also to improve the environment and society at large.

As business education spread, the need arose for a standard to value its quality. The A ssociation to Advance Collegiate School of Business was set up as the standard-bearer of business education almost a century ago. Today, AACSB has accredited 633 universities in 41 countries, or only about 5 percent of the approximately 12,000 universities that offer business programs worldwide.

What is AACSB accreditation?

AACSB accreditation is a seal of approval that ensures universities adhere to the highest standards in their business education. As someone who has led a business school in its accreditation, I can attest that it is not a walk in the park. Accreditation is a painstaking process in which the school demonstrates to peers that its faculty members are trained adequately, are knowledgeable and are current in their disciplines. Such faculty are much sought-after in a competitive national marketplace and it is not easy to attract and retain them. Also, an accredited school must have in place a working process of quality improvement in which learning goals are clearly defined, results are consistently measured and actions are taken to address problems and improve.

If these standards are not in place, the value of business education is suspect at best. For instance, a nonaccredited school may decide not to require finance and marketing, both challenging business disciplines, and still call its program an MBA. It can choose to spread across large geographical areas or teach online programs without having the required resources and knowledge. In the accredited world, such actions would be unthinkable because they compromise the quality of instruction and student learning. They are unethical to the students who pay significant amounts of money to get an education and deserve excellence.

How to choose business education?

To high school seniors and their parents interested in business education or professionals seeking training to improve their careers, my advice is simple: seek the best that you can afford. Make no compromise. Don’t be fooled by lower admission standards. Quality business education is so important in Maine, a state that has lagged behind most of the nation in its business and economic development: It is a path to economic growth, increased employment, and individual career advancement. Look at a variety of business schools and, above all else, check the credentials and accomplishments of their faculty, which usually are displayed prominently on the university’s website. Faculty are those who are in the classroom teaching and from whom students learn most. Also, visit the university and look for marks of quality in the reputation of faculty, diversity of programs and accomplishments of alumni. And last, but not least: it is a wide world out there, so check whether the school’s reputation is established beyond the immediate geographical area.

Ivan Manev, an accomplished scholar in international business and entrepreneurship, joined the faculty of the University of Maine in 1997 and serves as dean of the Maine Business School.

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