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BRC Proposed Draft Standards Ongoing Series—Executive Education

December 2012

The Blue Ribbon Committee on Accreditation Quality (BRC) has proposed adding a standard related to education outside of degree programs. The current accreditation standards already include some guidance regarding instructional activities beyond degree education, mostly addressing their utilization of resources. However, the BRC believes that this is no longer the right approach. Executive education involves educational activities that do not lead to a degree but have educational objectives at a level consistent with higher education in management.

Education outside of degree programs is expected to grow and increase in importance relative to degree-based education. One driver is financial. As traditional sources of funds are not expected to rise, more schools are turning to such activities to subsidize activities currently viewed as more central to the mission, such as degree education and research. Already 75% of AACSB member schools in Europe report earning revenues from education outside of degrees—one school reported 85% of its revenue comes from such activities. The number is 62% in Asia, where many deans are leading their schools to do more. In the U.S. about 39% of private schools and 33% of public schools report earning income from education outside of degrees. These numbers fit well with the current resource utilization point of view expressed in the standards—where different activities are viewed as competing for (or being subsidized by) the resources applied to education outside of degrees.

Placement of the proposed standard on executive education within the academic and professional engagement section of the 15 proposed standards is equally important as it emphasizes the intersection between academic and professional engagement which often takes place in executive education. More than just a source of revenue, instruction beyond degrees and executive education in particular is viewed increasingly as a complement to degree-based education by allowing faculty to learn from the experiences of practicing managers and cutting a more direct path for disseminating new knowledge. It puts faculty in a position to address more relevant questions in their research. Viewing education outside of degrees as complementing mainstream degree education and research suggests an alternative approach to the standards, one that encourages such activities and considers how schools capitalize on the complementary nature of executive education, rather than one that is concerned only about its use of resources.

Proposed Standard 14: If applicable, executive education (activities not leading to a degree) complements teaching and learning in degree programs and intellectual contributions. The school has appropriate processes to ensure high quality in meeting client expectations and continuous improvement in executive education programs. [EXECUTIVE EDUCATION]

The standard would not be applicable to schools in which executive education is not a significant activity (e.g., less than 5% of total revenue or available resources). The 5% threshold is not black and white, but a metric is needed to determine the importance and impact of executive education beyond the school's mission. The focus of the standard is on processes appropriate for managing a dynamic portfolio of programs, rather than on certifying the learning outcomes of degree programs.

One emphasis of the standard is on the processes for assuring quality control though such actions as gathering feedback from clients and using the feedback for improvement. In contrast to the emphasis on direct measures in "assurance of learning" standards for degree programs, we would expect more reliance on meeting client expectations and indirect measures of learning in executive education programs. That is, the outcomes focus of executive education is more external and customer-oriented than it is for degree education.

In addition to proposed Standard 14, the BRC has enhanced the strategic management standard by raising the expectation that schools have an approach to educational activities outside of degrees (broadly defined) that is consistent with the mission, expected outcomes, and strategies of the school. If education activities outside of degrees are significant, then schools should address the purposes of such programs and their alignment and integration with other activities in the context of the school's mission, expected outcomes, and strategies. In response to these standards, for example, schools would discuss how executive education fits into their mission, the outcomes they intend to achieve from the activities, and strategic plans for achieving these outcomes. The approach should be carried throughout the remaining strategic management standards—continuous improvement and financial strategies—in obvious ways.

Executive education and non-degree educational activities also complement degree-based programs through branding. When effective, these activities can be a source of: 1) future students in fully-employed degree programs (e.g., executive MBA or professional MBA program); 2) recruiters who have personally experienced the quality of the faculty and educational programs; and 3) community and philanthropic support from corporations that benefit from talent development partnerships. Similarly, degree programs for fully employed students can also stimulate participation in executive education programs as degree students rave about specific classes that are directly applicable to their employers. The brand is established and strengthened by high-quality degree and non-degree programs.

Finally, there is an even more powerful shift in higher education that is increasing the importance of education outside of degrees. In 2003, an AACSB task force predicted not only growth in such education, but also that the boundaries separating non-degree related educational programs from degree education would continue to blur. According to the task force, companies and individuals would increasingly expect short courses to result in credit toward a degree and will view such courses as a continuation of degree education for alumni.

Overall, the BRC believes the focus of accreditation should begin to shift away from implicitly discouraging other types of education outside of degrees towards encouraging strategic approaches to developing such programs that fit the mission of the school, complement other activities, and are consistent with overall high quality.