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Fighting for Credibility

Fighting for Credibility
Having enjoyed an illustrious reputation without accreditation,
FAMU’s School of Business and Industry has finally decided to go for it

By Marlon A. Walker

When Florida A&M University’s School of Business and Industry (SBI) was established in 1974, founding dean Dr. Sybil Mobley believed the business world needed employees who received training different than what was specified in accredited business schools. Therefore, seeking accreditation was not at the top of her to-do list. But, 30 years later, SBI officials have moved it to the top of theirs.

“The State of Florida (is mandating that) all schools capable of being accredited should be,” says Dr. Amos Bradford, interim dean of SBI. “We’re doing all the work we can so that can be achieved.”

The accreditation, which would be recommended following a site visit from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, would mean that SBI’s program would have to be restructured around the mission statement of the accrediting counsel. This is a concern for some, because the school has long stood out for its unique curriculum, which focuses more on practical experience than course study.

Therefore, one of the biggest issues that would have to be worked out is how to save the professional development component of the curriculum. SBI students enrolled in the five-year master’s of business administration program were required to complete, among other things, three internships to give them practical business experience. And employers have been attracted to the school’s students because of their hands-on experience.

Bradford says new regulations give the school seven years from the time the application is accepted to gain full accreditation. The process started in the spring of 2004, and the application was submitted and approved in August.

During the next three years, Bradford says the school has to appear to be capable of attaining full accreditation. He says the school has planned a tentative meeting in March with a mentor who will advise the school on what steps to take in order to gain full accreditation.

“He’ll give us guidance as long as we’re working on our accreditation plan,” Bradford says.

Sometime in the near future, a self-evaluation will be done by the school’s administration to determine if the school is prepared for a site visit. The accrediting board team, following a site visit, will then determine whether to endorse the school’s accreditation.

“I don’t think it’s going to do much for us,” Bradford says. “The firms come because of the quality of students. People do not know what it means — or what it doesn’t mean (to be accredited).”

When Mobley retired in 2003, accreditation was still something that had eluded the illustrious program, which boasted of having its graduates working in various capacities at Fortune 500 companies around the world.

“We were getting the offers the top White schools weren’t,” says Mobley, who still lives in Tallahassee.

There are about 500 business schools currently accredited by the AACSB. While schools are not required to seek accreditation, Mobley says accreditation is documentation of a school’s credibility. In the case of SBI, she says, it was going to be business as usual until others caught on that SBI’s approach was what corporate America wanted and needed.

Bradford says the school will take the next few years to address issues such as how to maintain and incorporate SBI’s professional development component into the revised curriculum, as well as adjusting to the overall mission of the accrediting board.

Historically, the school’s approach to training future business leaders has been praised by those in the business world as well as the school’s students and faculty. In 2001, SBI ranked third in the nation in awarding bachelor’s degrees in business to Black students. The school ranked 11th in the nation for awarding MBAs to Black students. The school has repeatedly been noted in publications such as The New York Times, Fortune magazine and Newsweek magazine as a school to watch. They also have traditionally placed high regionally and nationally in a case study competition held by Deloitte and Touche every year. “(The students have) done okay,” says Dr. Karen Quarles-Lewis, a professor at SBI. “Something worked.” 

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