After curricula overhaul, UVI School of Business gets accredited


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After years of work, the University of the Virgin Islands School of Business has received initial accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

"Students are looking for business programs that are accredited. It really puts them on a firm footing in terms of the quality of their degree," said interim dean Aubrey Washington. "It says their degree has merit, that the processes and outcomes of the program have merit. It gives an external stamp of the quality on the program."

Accreditation for UVI isn't just a rubber stamp on what the university has always been doing, but has led to the school's transformation.

"It has been a journey," said associate professor Lonnie Hudspeth, who served as the champion for the accreditation process. "We initially thought of this idea about eight years ago and had faculty members and students discussing which ways we wanted to approach it."

One of those very first steps was deciding which agency to seek accreditation from, something Hudspeth said first meant deciding what kind of business school UVI wanted to have.

Hudsepth said a business education is about providing students with three types of knowledge and experiences: foreground, background and perspective.

"Your typical business curriculums might have at the foreground the theory, and then either have practical on the background," he said.

UVI has flipped that. Students earning degrees from UVI are now part of a program that first emphasizes real-world skills and experiences in an effort to either prepare them for the workforce, or to realize that they can start their own businesses and create their own opportunities.

"We are putting the practice of experience - learning by doing - at a greater emphasis while still taking into consideration the theory that needs to be understood," Hudspeth said. "The theory will take more of a background."

But, "the greater emphasis will be on the practical task."

"The student can learn while doing, giving greater context to the student," Hudspeth said.

For UVI business students that means working on real-world problems. For information systems and technology students it's a requirement to achieve certifications from companies like Cisco and Apple by the time they graduate, Hudspeth said.

For hotel and tourism degree students it will mean going out into the community and working in the field as well as studying it.

"All of our degree programs will be taking this methodology. That is where we are headed," Hudspeth said.

But just having practical experience and knowledge of theories isn't enough.

According to Washington, the goal is to give students three specific skill sets: soft skills - the ability to communicate and conduct oneself professionally; technical expertise - the ability to use standard tools and practices; and professional expertise - the ability for the student to continue to learn and grow by reading about current events and theory in their field.

It is a combination that has received results.

In 2011, according to Hudspeth, the university initially applied to ACBSP for accreditation, but was turned down and given three years to improve.

"Over the last three years we've made a conscious effort," interim dean Washington said. "We adopted a strategic plan that will provide a roadmap for how we proceed over the next few years," he said. "It can only be accomplished with the entire faculty contributing to the effort."

And in the last three years, Hudsepth said every member of the business faculty has contributed, and that apparently has been noticed.

"The University of the Virgin Islands has shown their commitment to teaching excellence and to the process of quality improvement by participating in the accreditation process," said ACBSP Director of Accreditation Steve Parscale in a written statement.

The university's business school will officially receive its initial accreditation June 29 during the council's annual conference in Chicago.

And while achieving accreditation was an important step for the school, Washington and Hudspeth agree that what is most important is that the school isn't standing still.

"The accreditation is important," Washington said. "But what is probably more important is that we have adopted a procedure for improvement."

In the short term, Washington said the school will be spending the summer examining its finance program and how it relates to the community.

As with all of the schools' programs, those decisions are now guided by a single principle. "Be relevant to the job market, give them the skills they need in the job market," Washington said.

ACBSP is the primary agency accrediting business programs at universities and colleges, and the only organization offering specialized business accreditation for all degree levels, from associate to baccalaureate to doctoral degree programs, according to a UVI release.

- Contact Daily News Executive Deputy Editor Stephen Cheslik at 714-9114 or scheslik@dailynews.vi.

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