In June 2014, the Zapara School of Business (ZSB) at La Sierra University held its annual awards ceremony. While much fanfare was made over a group of students and faculty members that were recognized for their outstanding achievements over the previous year, the biggest moment of the evening went unnoticed by many in attendance.
During his year in review speech, Dr. John Thomas, Dean of the Zapara School of Business, took a few brief moments to officially announce that ZSB had initiated the process required to obtain accreditation from The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (i.e. AACSB). The process to obtain such accreditation is not a simple one: it can take several years to obtain, and as such, can dilute the sense of urgency needed to obtain this title. It is imperative that the momentum to obtain this accreditation does not falter.
One might ask, “Why would such an announcement mean anything, especially to La Sierra University, which is accredited through both Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and through the Adventist Accrediting Association (AAA)?” One word: prestige.
As described from its website, AACSB was founded in 1916 and is the “longest serving global accrediting body for business schools that offer undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees in business and accounting” (AACSB.edu). Due to its history, AACSB accreditation has become the gold standard by which business programs are measured. Its accredited institutions include almost every Ivy League business school in the U.S, and as of February 2015, there are 727 institutions across 48 countries and territories with AACSB accreditation. Further research reveals that there are 7,483 graduate business schools in the United States and over 13,000 schools worldwide. Using this standard, if ZSB were to obtain AACSB accreditation, it would find itself amongst the top 10% of business schools in the United States and amongst the top 6% worldwide.
At this point, critics might say “But why does ZSB, La Sierra University, or any Adventist institution need to be prestigious? Aren’t we doing well? ZSB just built a new $16 million building for its business students. What more do we need?” Again, one word: competition.
Every year in the United States, U.S. News & World Report ranks both undergraduate and graduate programs across the nation. This yearly publication is held in high regard and is used by millions of families in determining to which universities their children will apply (and perhaps attend). Businesses also use this report to examine the quality of education their job applicants have obtained. If one examines the methodology U.S. News uses to rank their business schools (particularly business graduate programs), one will find that only AACSB accredited programs are considered by U.S. News for their annual rankings. Furthermore, some Fortune 500 companies restrict which institutions their employees can attend for educational advancement. The most prominent example of this occurred in 2006, when Intel restricted its list of approved colleges from its tuition reimbursement program for its employees. The list now only includes AACSB accredited universities. If La Sierra wishes to remain competitive amongst surrounding universities’ business programs, ZSB must obtain AACSB accreditation and begin pursuing national ranking.
Whether we like to admit it or not, such exclusivity by U.S. News Rankings translates to an immediate disadvantage in the hiring process for any student attending an Adventist institution. Why? Adventist institutions are small and do not have the luxury of a public performance history that many big-name and Ivy League universities enjoy. In today’s world, the job hiring process comes down to both who you know and where you studied. If a student begins at less than 50% in these categories, the odds are already stacked against them.
I can personally attest to this, as I have recently spent a significant amount of time applying for various positions in hospital administration programs across the U.S. For an individual looking to enter into this career, there are roughly five main Adventist affiliated programs in the U.S. (Adventist Health, Loma Linda University, Centura Health, Kettering Health Network, and Adventist Health Systems). Yet many of these programs only have residency positions for 1 or 2 individuals per year, which means students should simultaneously apply elsewhere as well. From a national perspective, the best resource to find such programs is on the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE)’s website, specifically under Postgraduate Fellowships (link provided below). Here, private and government institutions post details regarding the programs and positions that are open at their locations. Under the “Position Qualifications” of these postings, almost all of the institutions require applicants to have obtained an MBA degree from an AACSB accredited institution. This is especially emphasized in many applications for positions/ programs offered through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospitals. Such applications must be submitted through the website USAJOBS.gov. In these applications, the government specifically asks a “Yes or No” question in which the applicant must state whether they obtained their degree from an AACSB accredited institution. This question is a “Yes” or “No” selection question, does not offer the student the ability to provide a written explanation, and must be answered before the application can be submitted. After talking with administrators at a VA Hospital, I was informed that the applications can easily be sorted electronically solely based on AACSB accredited applications, thereby allowing some individuals’ applications to be filtered out before even being reviewed by a human being.
Simply put: not obtaining AACSB accreditation is a strong disservice to any student attending an Adventist Institution. Yes, we as Adventist institutions may be producing some high quality graduates, but if we don’t equip our students with the credentials to be competitive in the workplace, these students will be pushed aside and may not even receive an interview. Furthermore, obtaining such AACSB accreditation would promote the quality of ZSB’s programs. This would more than likely raise enrollment rates not only due to ZSB being the only AACSB accredited Adventist program in the world, but also due to the continued success of ZSB’s rapidly growing professional cohort program offered throughout Southern California. These cohorts allow numerous working professionals the opportunity to obtain an MBA at a location near their work region instead of commuting excessive distances multiple times a week to big name universities. Having an AACSB accredited university who is willing to contract with a business and bring their proven MBA program to the organization is a tremendous selling point that would also continue to increase revenue for the university.
Now some individuals might be weary of such accreditation and suggest “Isn’t this reckless to put our school in a position where we are in the same company as other schools whose students mainly focus only on the love and pursuit of money? Wouldn’t that send the wrong message to our students and be against our mission statement?”
Perhaps, but since we cannot control the morality or intentions of our students’ actions, we should instead focus on the numerous opportunities that we are creating for our students. On the General Conference’s Educational homepage is the statement “Adventist Colleges’ campuses combine the best of both worlds—excellent academic programs and an environment where you can practice your faith…” If we truly desire to create the most excellent academic program for our students, we need to realize that traditional accreditation methods for Adventist Universities are no longer sufficient. Where we can, we must take a proactive stance to reach out and align our teaching standards to a level that is on par with publically prestigious and internationally recognized accreditation organizations. This does not mean that we abandon our religious beliefs or Christian education; on the contrary, it means that we set our minimum standards at the prestigious levels of our competitive counterparts and then we enhance them by adding Christian ideology.
In addition, there exists a long-time perception across the U.S. that the quality of Christian Education is inferior to that received at public schools. The only way for Adventist Education to escape such a negative perception is through national third-party recognition of our educational standards. If we don’t change Adventist Education and place it on the same playing field amongst its ranked competitors, this simultaneously provides a disadvantage to our graduates applying for jobs in the normal workforce. Knowing this, why would any student choose to attend an Adventist University for their business degree? The intelligent students will soon recognize the issues they will experience in their job hunt if they do not have an AACSB accredited degree, and they will seek to minimize such adversity by attending an AACSB institution that will maximize the value of their tuition dollars.
In order to meet professional standards necessary to ensuring that students graduating from Adventist Institutions remain competitive in their education and careers, it is vital for La Sierra and the Zapara School of Business to obtain AACSB accreditation now. As ZSB is the largest Adventist Business School in North America, it is perfectly poised to set a precedent in becoming the first Adventist institution to become AACSB accredited. Not only would such accreditation help increase ZSB’s enrollment numbers, but it would allow more Adventist students to become leaders in elite companies around the world. To have such influence is no longer just an option, but it is now obligatory to ensure the continued success and survival of the Adventist church.
I therefore urge students, faculty, and business personnel alike to support Dr. Thomas and the Zapara School of Business in their pursuit of such accreditation in the fastest manner possible.
Accreditation Process. Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://www.aacsb.edu/en/accreditation/process/
Adventist Colleges & Universities. (2015, January 1). Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://www.adventistcolleges.org/
Eight Institutions, Across Six Countries Earn AACSB International Business Accreditation. (2015, February 18). Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://www.aacsb.edu/en/newsroom/2015/2/eight-institutions-across-six-countries-earn-aacsb-business-accreditation/
Graduate Schools. (2015, January 1). Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://www.gradschools.com/program-type/graduate-schools-list
Is AACSB Accreditation Important for an MBA Program? (2013, April 22). Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://business.gmu.edu/blog/mba/2013/04/22/is-aacsb-accreditation-important-for-an-mba-program/
Methodology: 2016 Best Business Schools Rankings. (2015, March 9). Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/business-schools-methodology?int=aa6b09
Woo, Stu. “Intel Cuts 100 Colleges From Its Tuition-Reimbursement Program for Employees”, The Chronicle of Higher Education: Money and Management, February 2, 2007.