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66 November/ December 2014 BizEd your turn AS COSTS FOR higher education skyrocket and enroll- ments in graduate-level business programs level off, business schools face an urgent need to remake them- selves. They must consider not just devising alternative delivery formats, but also revamping cost structures, staffing systems, and other traditional aspects of the existing business model that make education almost unaffordable. In so doing, they could lead the way for change throughout higher education. AACSB International recognizes how critical inno- vation is to business education; in fact, its 2013 accred- itation standards explicitly promote innovation. Even so, AACSB accreditation still does not truly encourage business schools to innovate in response to the disrup- tions reshaping the industry. But I believe accreditation practices could be revised just enough to help lead the industry through necessary reform. A Safe, Conservative Model When it comes to innovation, I see two problems with today's accreditation process. The first one is that, despite its new focus, AACSB accreditation fosters emulation, not radical innovation. Association members have a long his- tory of learning from each other and absorbing the best practices of other schools. The accreditation process itself is a peer-review system whose lifeblood is sharing among institutions. Granted, AACSB's new standards strongly promote differentiation among schools. The new category of "strategic management and innovation standards" demands that administra- tors make periodic, systemic reviews to re-evaluate their processes to ensure that they are allocating resources and achieving outcomes in ways that align with their missions. Does Accreditation Spur Innovation? These reviews lead to continual tweaks and upgrades, but most changes occur in small, self-con- tained units. In fact, that's true all across higher educa- tion. For instance, the ExCollege is an experimental cross-disciplinary unit within Tufts University where students and faculty collaborate to expand the under- graduate curriculum in the arts, sciences, and engineer- ing. Southern New Hampshire University's Innovation Lab is an educational incubator that aims to make education more affordable and accessible, especially for underrepresented students. Innovations often occur in separate units within the university so institutions can work around two powerful barriers: culture and governance. But higher education can't afford simply to make incremental changes in small subunits. Disruptions in our market will require us to reconfigure entire mar- kets and value networks. Currently, accreditation is not poised to help us do that. The second problem with accreditation is that it's inherently conservative. It exists, in part, to help con- sumers assess value in a market rife with information asymmetry. Education is not a "search good"—that is, consumers can't judge the quality merely by looking at the product. Instead, it is what economists call a "credence good." Consumers have to trust that the college they choose will provide a quality educa- tional service. Industries that sell cre- dence goods can rely on their brands and reputations to win the trust of customers, or they can use accredita- tion to achieve the same end. Accreditation is about minimizing the risk that providers selling poor- quality services will contaminate the consumers' view of high-quality providers. Accreditation is a "club good" that protects the status quo by ring-fencing a certain group of providers and boosting their brands relative to others. This conserva- tive approach is the opposite of innovation. By Sylvia Maxfield Accreditation is about minimizing risk. This is the opposite of innovation.

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