Peter E. Maher and Janet L. Kourik
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Webster University
470 E. Lockwood Ave., St. Louis, MO 63119, United States, U.S.A.
Keywords: Accreditation, Assessment, Multi-campus, Knowledge management system.
Abstract: Specialized accreditation provides an external validation of a specific set of programs offered within an
institution of higher learning. Such accreditations have become strongly outcomes-based, which in turn
means that effective methods of assessing student learning must be developed. We describe the major
requirements of a particular business accreditation for a multi-campus, multi-country university including
the accreditation process. Further, we describe our observations resulting from this process, together with
some recommendations for improvement based on our experiences.
An increasing focus on strengthening accreditation
requirements in the United States (
U.S. Department of
2006) provides ever increasing motivation
to improve curriculum and assessment systems. The
benefits of accreditation include formal external
reviews of institutional improvements, encouraging
the use of measurable learning outcomes, and
providing students and employers with reassurance
of program quality. The Association of Collegiate
Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) is a US
accrediting organization that evaluates business
programs throughout the country and internationally
). Webster University applied
for specialized business accreditation with the
ACBSP in 2006.
In this paper we describe the requirements for
ACBSP accreditation, and give an outline of the
application process. Further, we describe the issues
we faced during this process, and make some
recommendations for improvements. It is our hope
that other institutions embarking on a similar
accreditation application will benefit from some of
the pitfalls and positive actions that we have
Specialized accreditation is designed to provide an
external review of a specific aspect of a university
curriculum. The ACBSP is one of two accrediting
bodies for business schools recognized by the US
Department of Education and the Council for Higher
Education Accreditation (CHEA). The second
business school accreditation body is the
Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of
Business International (AACSB). The AACSB
considers research as a primary goal of institutions
of higher learning. The ACBSP, on the other hand,
places more emphasis on teaching effectiveness.
To be eligible for ACBSP accreditation, a US
institution must already possess institutional
accreditation by one of the six regional accreditation
organizations. Webster University is located in St.
Louis, Missouri, in the US. Hence it falls under the
Higher Learning Commission (HLC), one of the
regional accrediting bodies for the midwest portion
of the US, which is in turn part of the North Central
Association of Colleges and Schools
( If an overseas institution is
applying for ACBSP specialized accreditation, it
must provide government documentation confirming
their right to grant degrees.
The ACBSP accreditation, as with almost all
such accreditations, determines the quality of a
program by considering a variety of inputs into the
educational process, the learning activities that take
E. Maher P. and L. Kourik J. (2009).
In Proceedings of the First International Conference on Computer Supported Education, pages 347-350
DOI: 10.5220/0001971903470350
place based on these inputs, and the outcomes
produced by the process. ‘Inputs’ refers to anyone
or anything that has a direct impact on the learning
process such as instructors, students, support
services, and organizational structure. Activities
during the process include teaching, advising, and
faculty study and consulting. ‘Outcome’ examples
involve student project scores, employee
evaluations, specialized test scores or other evidence
of student learning. Accreditation is therefore
‘outcomes-based.’ This represents a change of
direction for many specialized accrediting bodies
who previously placed more emphasis on inputs into
the educational process. See (Lubinescu, Ratcliff,
and Gaffney, 2001) for a discussion of the shift in
focus of accrediting organizations.
The process by which a business school may
apply for ACBSP accreditation is outlined in Figure
1. Once the school completes and submits an
application for accreditation it is immediately
considered as a candidate.
The assigned mentor has the task of ensuring that
a school is ready to begin the accreditation
evaluation process. He or she will work with the
school towards identifying any gaps in the school’s
documentation and/or processes that would make
them ineligible for accreditation. The findings of the
mentor are shared with the ACBSP’s Director of
Assessment. If deemed appropriate, the school will
be given approval to complete the preliminary
questionnaire, and hence begin the first major step in
the accreditation process.
The preliminary questionnaire is a structured
report regarding the school’s readiness for
accreditation that will serve as the foundation for
evaluation. If the ACBSP’s Director of Assessment
is satisfied with the preliminary questionnaire, the
school works with the ACBSP to develop a
timetable for the development of a ‘self-study.’ A
self-study, or self-assessment, is a comprehensive
document examining the business school through
guidelines provided by the ACBSP. Developing the
self-study is major aspect of the accreditation
process and requires a significant amount of time to
complete. Some observations gained while
developing Webster’s self-study are provided later
in the paper.
Once the self-study has been submitted, the
ACBSP organizes an evaluation team and schedules
a site visit with the school. This evaluation visit is
typically requires a full week and the school is given
precise guidelines as to how to prepare for the visit.
This is a major aspect of the accreditation process.
Figure 1: The ACBSP accreditation process.
The evaluation team completes a report based on
their observations during the visit, which is filed
within the following two weeks. It is important to
note that while this report contains recommendations
from the team, the ACBSP Board will make the final
determination. Once the Board decides to accredit a
school, this accreditation becomes effective
immediately. The school may then advertise its
programs as being ACBSP accredited. The formal
award for accreditation is made at the next ACBSP
annual conference, normally scheduled for June.
School completes and submits a
plication for
Assigned mentor completes preliminary site
visit documen
Preliminary questionnaire prepare
Planning a timetable for the self-study is
Evaluation site team is assigned, and visit
Feedback report filed within two weeks of
Report reviewed by institution’s President,
ready for submission to the Board of
Board awards accreditation, if appropriate, at
one of two meetings per year (April and
November). Accreditation is effectively
Institution formally awarded accreditation at
ACBSP conference
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The School of Business and Technology (SBT) at
Webster University has over 15,000 enrollments
across a network of over 100 physical campuses
located in 21 US states, Europe and Asia.
International sites include London, Geneva, Leiden,
Vienna, Bangkok and Cha-am Thailand, and
Shanghai, Shen Zhen, and Chengdu China. Some
courses combine distance education and
international travel. Students from around the world
may also participate through distance education with
approximately 4600 enrollments per semester in the
school’s online courses.
The school is composed of three departments: 1)
Business, 2) Management and 3) Mathematics and
Computer Science. The school strives to ensure that
students receive fundamentally the same course
regardless of where the course is taken or how it is
delivered. Key concepts should not change from
location to location or from the physical classroom
to electronic classroom. In addition to the clear
academic reasons for all offerings of a course having
the same learning outcomes, we also want to afford
our students the ability to take courses at any site at
which they are offered, or online; the transition
should be seamless.
Historically, the departments implemented
curriculum processes independently with oversight
by a school-wide curriculum committee. This effort
to develop a consistent curriculum included a
stipulation that all departments use the same core
documents and information systems. This was a
major step toward integrating and unifying the
school’s approach to curriculum.
Another view of the scale and distribution issues
the school faces is apparent when faculty
demographics are considered. The school has
approximately 40 faculty members with full-time
positions primarily on the home campus and over
1,500 practitioner faculty members with part-time
positions distributed throughout the world. The
school strives to establish effective channels of
communication with all faculty, both full-time and
practitioner. The input of all faculty members is
vital to producing current, effective programs
especially given that we have so many practitioner
faculty members with current experience in industry.
However, we also want all faculty members to feel
part of a single, worldwide university. Such
collaboration fosters effective teamwork, and goes a
long way to boosting the morale of the institution.
If the mentor’s visit is scheduled for the beginning
of a fall semester, in August, then it can be
anticipated that the preliminary questionnaire be
completed by the end of the previous spring
Typically the entire ACBSP accreditation
process takes two years. It should be anticipated that
the development of the self-study will take at least
one year. Identifying and organizing sufficient
historical documents and data is a potentially
monumental task. Once collected, the data must be
analyzed prior to writing the self-study. The
accrediting agency specifies the order and topic
coverage for chapters of the self-study. In some
cases, specific formats must be used for tables and
charts. Ample time should be allotted for collection,
analysis, writing and formatting activities.
Writing the self-study report was a major
undertaking. Significant thought regarding the
delegation of tasks was considered vital. It was
considered more appropriate to involve faculty in
this process rather than members of the
administration. Faculty members are more involved
in the educational processes of the university and
were therefore considered to be more appropriate.
Each “standard” in the report was assigned to an
individual faculty member.
Upon completion of each standard, the text was
sent to several external reviewers. These reviewers
were selected based on their experience with
ACBSP evaluations or other established academic
accreditation bodies, and would have experienced
such an evaluation. Hence they would be in a good
position to provide useful feedback, and enable us to
include some vital details. The associate dean
compiled the reviewers’ comments into a single
document before forwarding to each chapter author.
This process also afforded the associate dean an
overview of the emerging self-study report and
opportunities to coordinate content across chapters.
Upon completion of the writing process for each
standard, a member of the school administration was
given the task of compiling the document into its
final form. The important task at this stage was to
ensure consistency of both fact and style across
chapters and eliminate duplication of information.
Publishing software was used to create a
sophisticated professional document that was
visually appealing and easy to read.
The work does not end with the publication of
the self-study. Preparation for all constituencies is
very important and included explaining the value of
accreditation, the accrediting standards, process,
potential inquiries, schedule and responsibilities.
The development of the self-study is the most time-
consuming aspect of the accreditation process.
Having a central repository containing well-
organized data for the preparation of such
documentation is critical. In hindsight, we would
have allotted significantly more time and human
resources to the collection process. We also would
have provided better cross-references from the self-
study to the electronic repository.
The self-study consists of six ‘standards.’ Each
standard represents a different aspect of the
institution. The self-study is too large a document
for one individual to write. Furthermore, faculty
members should be the major contributors to this
document; only members of the faculty have the
institutional knowledge necessary to complete
answers to the questions being posed.
Administrators, in general, do not have the required
If each standard is developed by one faculty
member, it is vital to ensure that eventually there is
consistency across standards. This may entail
figures being accurate; it may also involve simply
ensuring a consistent format.
Getting external reviewers for each standard is
important. Such reviewers should be from
institutions that have already received ACBSP
accreditation. They understood the issues involved
in the process and provided valuable insights that
were not explicitly documented in the literature.
Preparations for the evaluators visit should be
done well in advance and the evaluators’
convenience should be kept in mind. A complete
schedule is preferred, with time allotted for the team
to work by themselves.
The self-study is intended to represent an
overview of the information needed by the
evaluators. Detailed documents are provided as
“exhibits.” At Webster we organized the exhibits in
electronic form – we deemed that given our multi-
campus environment, having hard copies of all
exhibits would be overwhelming. Great care and
attention should be devoted to ensuring that they are
easily accessible, and sufficiently detailed.
The school’s physical environment says a lot
about the educational environment and institution to
the visiting accreditors. For example the ACBSP
report noted that "Student focus is clearly a priority
for SBT. Evidence of pride in students is
everywhere, for example large photos of past and
present students in hallways, student artwork
throughout campus, student work/study areas in
multiple places in every building, 24-hour cybercafé,
etc. SBT uses emails, open-houses, advising and
many other methods to gain information from
students and prospective students, as well as develop
on-going relationships."
The ACBSP final report noted that the
knowledge management systems developed at
Webster constituted (Maher and Kourik, 2008) “…
a well-deployed, best-in-class, systematic approach
to ensuring that programs are delivered worldwide
with consistency and quality." Further, the ACBSP
noted that the overall "…Academic Assessment
Project is also a well-deployed, best-in-class,
systematic approach to ensuring that learning
outcomes are achieved worldwide."
We have explained the process of obtaining
specialized business accreditation in a multi-campus
environment, as well as describing some
observations and recommendations. Experience
gained since embarking on this journey has
uncovered many potential pitfalls. However, with
careful planning, and having a solid infrastructure in
place, the passage towards obtaining specialized
business accreditation has been rewarding and has
greatly contributed to the school’s learning
Lubinescu, E.S., Ratcliff, J.L., Gaffney, M.A., 2001, Two
continuums collide: Accreditation and assessment,
How Accreditation Influences Assessment, Ratcliff,
Lubinescu & Gaffney, Eds., New Directions for
Higher Education Number 113, Jossey-Bass, San
Francisco. pp 5-21.
Maher, P.E., Kourik, J.L., 2008, A Knowledge
Management System for Disseminating Semi-
Structured Information in a Worldwide University, In
PICMET’08, Cape Town, South Africa.
U.S. Department of Education, 2006, A Test of
Leadership: charting the Future of U.S. Higher
Education, Washington, D.C.
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