St. Thomas snags international accreditation

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March 14, 2011
By: Andre Eggert
Andre Eggert
The state’s largest private school was awarded an international accreditation earlier this year, making it only the sixth in the state to do so.

The University of St. Thomas became the first private school in Minnesota to receive accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Business Schools. Only about 5 percent of business schools in the world have received such accreditation.

Georgia Fisher, assistant dean of the undergraduate school of business, said she was “almost dazed” when she heard St. Thomas had finally earned accreditation.

The process started in 2006, when St. Thomas sent an application to the AASCB to be considered. The accreditation plan was accepted in 2008, and by the end of 2010 the school was informed that they had been accredited.

The accreditation affects a large swath of students. Of the school’s nearly 11,000 students, 36 percent are enrolled at the Opus College of Business.

Being accepted for AACSB accreditation shows the school has the “highest standard of quality” in business education, Opus College of Business Dean Christopher Puto said.

St. Thomas decided to pursue the goal after the AACSB changed its accreditation to focus on student outcomes rather than school structure, Director of Marketing Communications for the business school, Lisa Guyott, said.

To reach accreditation, the school made several changes. They included hiring 52 new full-time faculty members over the last six years, primarily those with academic backgrounds in business.

The AACSB requires a balance of “academically qualified” and “professionally qualified” faculty. Academically qualified faculty must have a doctorate in their field of study and publish in at least two peer-reviewed journals in a five-year period. Professionally qualified faculty must have at least a master’s in their field of study and “significant” high-level professional experience, Guyott said.

Programs in the school also had to be developed or revamped. This included a new Master of Business Administration and Accountancy program and a revamped undergraduate and evening MBA programs.

Other changes were also made such as developing a new system of shared governance to represent faculty interests and constructing two new buildings that offer students and faculty new technological support previously unavailable.

“[This is] an affirmation of educational excellence,” Guyott said. “With accreditation, we gain the ability to differentiate ourselves from less-prestigious schools with a less-rigorous curriculum and gain the ability to compete head-to-head with accredited, ranked institutions we see as our peers.”

Changes will not be immediately apparent to students, Guyott said.

That is because accreditation is an outcome of previous improvement, not a catalyst for change. The more-rigorous courses, revamped programs, larger faculty and new buildings have already come to fruition.

St. Thomas will be reviewed every five years to make sure it is meeting accreditation standards by the AACSB.

The AACSB was founded in 1916 as a membership organization “where business schools could network and discuss issues that affected the business education industry and their institutions,” according to the AACSB website.

Only six schools, including University of St. Thomas, are accredited in Minnesota. The other five are the state universities in Moorhead, Mankato and St. Cloud, University of Minnesota Duluth and the University of Minnesota.