Next spring, a task force is due to report on whether the ability of the nation's business schools to turn out potential managers who can handle streddful situations as well as accounting should become criteria for accreditation along with the numbers of doctorally qualified professors on their faculties and books in their libraries.
Although rating graduates in medicine, education and law-and by inference the schools that taught them-is not new, there are no bar exams for budding business executives, perhaps because of the business world's diverse requirements. A test could be devised to measure a business school graduate's proficiency in marketing, for example, but could it measure his or her acumen? Industry leaders have cited stamina, the ability to relate to people and even a sense of humor, as well as technicaltraining, as prerequisites for success. Can a future business executive who may someday have to face all-night labor negotiations stay alert? Can-or should-a school be rated on the number of pushups its grads can do?
That idea, which may seem inane, was put forth by the task force's chairman, H.J. Zoffer, dean of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh, to illustrate the complexity of evaluating business school graduates. He conceded that the group's research could shatter the current principles of accreditation: "We might find that the best education comes from schools with few Ph.D.s and only part-time faculty."
After the noncognitive expectations-educationese for what a good business school graduate should know besides book learning-have been identified in the upcoming report, efforts will be made to quantify them. Suggestions for appropriate means, which will be the subject of further study, range from the super-silly pushup test to seriously employing private consulting firms to assess managerial capacity through team interviews. The committee is made up of academic deans, industry executives, recruiting officers, alumni, students, and members of the public. The 18-month-old study is being sponsored in part by a $60,000 grant from the Exxon educational Foundation.
Measuring the "output" of business schools instead of the "unput," or rating schools by their students instead of by their faculties or facilities traditionally has been expressed by comparing graduates' starting salaries. Median income for 1978 holders of masters of business administration from Harvard and Stanford was $24,000. At Wharton, the average was $22,094; at Chicago, $20,406. But salaries often reflect geography as much as education. A recent salary poll of 3800 MBAs over the years conducted by MBA magazine showed that those working in New York reveived the highest average salary, $36,065, and those in Washington receive an averge of $30,473, whichs puts MBAs in this area behind those in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Trying to develop a means of rating business schools by looking at their graduates is an experiment by the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the accrediting organization for business schools. It is an attempt to counter growing criticism that the AACSB's criteria for accreditation are too inflexible or too old-fashioned, that they stifle incentive for innovation, that they result in schools turning out technocrats instead of learned persons, that they favor rural over urban campuses, that they are economically burdensome and that business isn't getting the kind of future managers it needs.
Although accreditation is not mandatory-despite widespread belief to the contrary-in a sense, it has become essential for attracting to a campus qualified faculty, students and the business representatives who in turn arerecruiting graduates for jobs. Deans of business schools have used the gear of losing accreditation to win budget increases from univeritity administrations.
Some observers regard the AACSB as the protector of the sheepskin in an age of proliferating business schools and students. The organization now accredits 204 business schools in the U.S. and Canada, still only a fraction of the total number of business schools. This year, American colleges and universities awarded approximately 49,000 masters degrees in business administration plus many times that number of bachelors degrees, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Fewer than half came from accredited schools.
For all the chafing at the AACSB bonds, few major institutions have been willing to shed them altogether. Two years ago, Duke University's graduate school was refused accreditation because its undergraduate school was not accredited. This goes against AACSB rules. (Of its 204 accredited schools, 118 are accredited at both levels.)
Faced with having to coange the number of business courses its undergraduates took, Duke decided it could do without accreditation by the assembly. Duke's president, Terry Sanford, declared at the time, 'They want us to distort our concept of undergraduate education in order to comply with some orbitrary standard. "F. Keller, added, "We are denied accreditation on a technically, even though they told us our programs were high quality."
Duke complained about the AACSB to the U.S. Office of Education, which offered to review the situation. In the endm Duke backed down and resolved its differences with the AACSB, so the government was never called upon to determine whether the AACSB was fit to accredit business schools. Tulane, Syracuse, Saint Louis University, the University of Maryland and reportedly one of the Big 10 schools all have been threatened with the loss of accreditation. All have chosen to comply, but the issue of AACSB criteria will not go away.
A number of the issues appear technical, such as transferring credits from two-year colleges to business schools, or purely academic, such as integrating faculties so that courses in ethics, for examply, can be taught by philosophy professors rather than business school faculty.
Others are more fundamental. C. Warren Neel, dean of the University of Tennessee College of Business Administration, wrote recently. "The accreditation process is rapidly approaching the point where it is reduced to an emptpy series of statistics which would be more appropriate for business or trade school program evaluation of 50 years ago." As a result, he added, "The four-year professional school may be producing a future executive who is highly skilled but lacks the ability to communicate, shackled by a parochial view fostered by a highly specialized curriculum which compartmentalizes perspective and behaviour and produces limited ability to deal with iterdisciplinary problems." In short, "a cadre of technocrats."
Neel would place more emphasis on liberal arts and weave professional courses into the entire four years rather than in the last two, as now required by the AACSB. So would Herbert E. Striner, dean of the American University School of Business Administration. "The underlying, and false, premise of AACBS undergraduate business education is that you become a learned person during the first two years at school, and a professionally competent person during the last two," he said.
Striner added that he believes it would make more sense for "the study of people and values of society (to be) in close proximity with a course in marketing; a study of comparative culture (with) an international business course." Striner envisaged business students reading "Death of a Salesman" while tackling computer programming. "An increasing criticism from industry is that the undergraduate business major is unnecessarily only a technically trained person, not an educted person who also has the ability to do a job and grow into more and more responsible positions.
"This is of crucial importance to a growing number of firms which want their employes to perform not only as accountants, financial analyisi, marketing specialists or managers in a technical sense, but also in a more effective overall sense," Striner wrote in a paper prepared for The Washington Post.
Claiming he already has th backing of IBM and is trying for other companies' support, Striner said he intends to introduce such a program in a couple of years and present it to AACSB for approval.
Another sticking point is AACSB's rule that 75 percent of a faculty has to be full-time professors.Said Striner, "This servies to guarantee that in such cities as Washington, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, New Orleans, Atlanta, Etcetera, retired experts or working leaders in industry who want to teach a course and who would be a major asset as a part-time faculty members are limited by an arbitrary quota system." He said this system works for rural or isolated campuses, but it should be broadened to include local situations where 30 or 40 percent of the faculty can be drawn from the ranks or retired or active, leaders in industry or from retired professors.