Q&A with Jacob Chacko on AACSB accreditation and the future of training

In 1999, Jacob Chacko was appointed as associate dean of the business college at Clayton State University, Georgia, USA. Under his leadership, the school succeeded in acquiring accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), a prestigious feat enjoyed by only the top 5 percent of business schools worldwide, including the AUC School of Business.

Chacko rose to the rank of dean in 2008 but this post was short lived. In 2010, he was appointed dean of the College of Business at Abu Dhabi University in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He was tasked with guiding the university to obtain AACSB accreditation, which they achieved in 2015.

Chacko has since returned to his post at Clayton State University, where he is leading efforts to reform their degree programs to be better prepared for disruptions and produce graduates better prepared for the rapidly changing demands of the job market.

What were some of the key differences in your experience?

There were a lot of cultural differences, but also, there were a lot of institutional difference. For example, one is a private institution as opposed to a public, government-funded institution. From a funding point of view, Clayton State University got accredited in 2006. Abu Dhabi University got accredited in 2016 or 2015. Clayton State being a government funded institution, we had a lot more bureaucracy to go through to get accreditation. As institutions, we have certain mandatory accreditation that has to be obtained in a country.

In the United States, for example, all institutions have a regional accreditation. We are in the South East and so it is called SACS [Southern Association of Colleges and Schools]. Without that, an institution cannot function. For mandatory accreditation, there is no question. When it comes to AACSB or [other kinds of accreditation], which is good to have, there is always a debate at the whole university whether it is worth investing funds and energy into those kinds of categories.

At Clayton State, that process took a lot longer because the discussions were much wider and there were more stakeholders involved. Whereas at Abu Dhabi University being a private institution, there was some strategic initiative and it was very quick.

The second difference is in the US there is a tenure system where the faculty members have a lot more shared governance, where faculty members will debate everything. Whereas in a country like the UAE, we do not have a tenure system. All the faculty at Abu Dhabi University at that time were not [UAE] nationals. Once the institution decides to go a certain way, if you’re part of it, you need to follow through or you are free to leave. Implementation was very easy at a private institution in Abu Dhabi as opposed to the US. Those are the two key differences.

What were the similarities?

The similarities are the impact. It really transforms the institution in terms of delineating the faculty role as teaching research, not just teaching. At the time we started the accreditation process, Abu Dhabi University was eight years old. When we started at Clayton State, it was 30 years old. They were primarily teaching institutions. Without the accreditation, there wouldn’t be an emphasis on research and professional engagement, which are critical for the development of faculty and how they prepare the students. That’s a similarity no matter where the school of accredited.

What are some of the key disruptions that are going to happen to supply chain management in the foreseeable future?

First of all, supply chain management has started getting the due respect it needed. At Clayton State, we started a supply chain management major and a degree at graduate and undergraduate level about 20 years ago. At the time, there were very few schools that really emphasised that. The reason we started it is because Clayton State is about five miles away from the world’s busiest airport [between 1998 and 2019], Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

We’re also right at the intersection of major highways and free ways that go through the US. The two major transportation logistics operations in the US are either through airlines or trucks. We also have railroads that pass through. We are at that nexus of supply chain logistics operations.

Supply chain activity is critical to all businesses, services, goods, all industries and even the healthcare industry. I think the biggest disruption is going to be that every industry irrespective of what they do will have to start looking at supply chains as being critical.

The second thing, supply chain [management] in the past has been too focused in two ways. One is “just in time” and also the cheapest, most efficient way to get [supplies]. For example, a lot of companies started doing these relocations to China or low-cost countries to source things. What makes sense because you want to make sure that the cost is contained so that we can pass on that cost to the customer and be competitive.

However, we understood that the [COVID-19] pandemic was the best example of cost containment by going to low-cost countries is not a smart thing because something like this could disrupt it. Industries are going to be more technology savvy. A lot of companies are moving their operations closer to the market but they’re trying to cut costs by [using] robots. Cost cutting doesn’t have to be low-cost labor. It can be high technology to compensate for that.

Will climate change affect supply chain management and if yes, how so?

Getting something made in a distant country and getting it shipped has two issues. The fuel and the distance contributes [carbon emissions]. Some of the things that supply chain companies are trying to do is they are distributing their distribution centers. Companies like UPS [United Parcel Service] has converted almost all their trucks to run on gas. Now they are trying to transition to battery power.

How will supply chain management education have to change to be ready for these disruptions?

That is the challenge that all business education is facing. Unlike science-based disciplines where things usually happen in the laboratory before they get commercialized, business is a practice-based discipline where necessities drives a lot of the education. In some ways, we are kind of a cart before the horse compared to a science education. By that what I mean is we have the challenge of a rapidly changing business environment that is global in nature. If our business environment was just confined within our backyard, it would be a lot easier to study.

I think we can only prepare students [by giving them] the basics. Prepare them to be able to work in uncertain environments [and become] problem solvers. That’s the only way I see it because there is no magic wand. You can only fix problems once we see the problems but it’s too late already once we start seeing the problem.

I think we have made […] This pandemic is a good example of our students and faculty being resilient. In education, almost globally we switched to online. Of course, it was not perfect but that shock made us become better students online and better faculty online. I think that is the only way to move forward and that is to learn how to deal with uncertainty.

Do you think the significance of bachelor’s and master’s degrees are declining? Will other types of training such as certificates, diplomas and practical experience take on more significance in future job markets?

Absolutely. Roughly 25 percent of the workforce in Microsoft, Apple and Google do not have degrees and that is increasing. Companies are saying what they need are students or employees who have certain skills but more importantly, who can learn and evolve in that position and be comfortable in that environment. They would rather take youngsters who have learned the trade and then make them evolve and get more training as they go through. Certification and training programs are becoming a lot more important.

In many ways, traditional education has to change. There is still benefit for undergraduate and graduate education as long as we can adapt it to fit that training mentality. One of the things we’ve been increasingly talking about in business schools recently is stackable degrees. For example, an undergraduate degree that could be composed of three different mini degrees. Graduate degrees that allow [students] to get different certificates along the way.

What we’re trying to do is build stackable degrees where a student can get these things, get the job and while attaining a master’s or undergraduate degree. That’s how we have merged the two so far and I’m sure we’ll come up with new models going forward.

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