AACSB on Earning ISO Certification

AACSB's chief accreditation officer, Stephanie Bryant, tells 2018-19 board chair, Caryn Beck-Dudley, about the decision to pursue ISO certification and the journey AACSB underwent to get there.


Caryn Beck-Dudley: Glad I could be with you today after the big announcement about ISO 9001:2015, and I’m very interested in talking to you about it.

Stephanie Bryant: It is a great day for us, Caryn.

Beck-Dudley: Why was it important for AACSB to undergo the rigorous process of ISO 9001:2015?

Bryant: Well that’s a great question, Caryn. I think it really comes down to this: you can say you’re high-quality, but in our case we now have a third party that verified that we’re high-quality. We chose ISO for two reasons: ISO is very widely recognized and respected, so everyone all over the world already knows what ISO certification means.

And also they have a global footprint. That very much matches the AACSB accreditation global footprint, so it’s a great match for us.

Beck-Dudley: I understand that ISO 9001 is widely used by businesses. Why did we choose to do it?

Bryant: We chose ISO 9001 partly because it is very recognized by businesses. They also do products and services both. So this is the service end of it, and in fact many universities also have ISO 9001 certification.

Over a million businesses have ISO certification in over 170 countries. So the global footprint is something that translates very well and matches with our global footprint.

Beck-Dudley: What were some of the things the organization found out about itself going through the process?

Bryant: Wow, we learned a lot. I think, with ISO you have to identify your key processes. It’s our accreditation processes that have ISO certification. So that made us have to go an look at, what are the individual pieces to the accreditation process, and then how do we validate the quality of that?

So just going through that decomposition was a huge learning process for us. And then we could move forward and improve each of those.

Beck-Dudley: What were some of the most challenging barriers to overcome during the process itself?

Bryant: So, the way it works is you do internal audits of your processes and then an external auditor comes in and does the actual audit.

Well none of our people are auditors, so they all had to go through ISO training. So all of our accreditation people from all over the world had to go through ISO training, they had to learn what an internal audit is, how to conduct it, how to make sure it’s done right, and then so that when our external auditor comes in, he in fact says, “Yes, that was done right, yes your processes are high quality.”

Getting everyone trained? A very big deal.

Beck-Dudley: That’s a huge amount of work. What kind of impact do you think it will have on AACSB going forward?

Bryant: It was a huge amount of work. It took about two years for us to do it. I think that our customers—those are our accredited schools—are going to see it over time.

So what will happen is, our processes are so much better now, so the way that we choose a volunteer team, the way that we train volunteers, for example, we now have processes in place that we didn’t have before to ensure quality.

So over time I think people are going to see an enhanced customer experience. Which is a big part of ISO.

Beck-Dudley: What does ISO 9001:2015 look like for AACSB in the future?

Bryant: For AACSB purposes, think about our own processes. You go through a process every five years once you get your initial AACSB accreditation. ISO’s kind of like that. You have an initial process, that’s what we just went through, but you actually have a visit every single year under ISO.

So it’s not like a “one and done.” So you have a visit every year, and after the third year you have to go through a recertification. So we have to do continuous improvement every year we have a surveillance audit. Every year we have to show that we’ve done continuous improvement.

Beck-Dudley: And what does it mean to our accredited schools worldwide?

Bryant: Worldwide I think it’s huge, because ISO is recognized worldwide.

In fact I got an email today from someone in Belgium, that said, “I heard you got ISO certification, we are thrilled. That’s going to mean a lot to our school.” So that quality signal, from a global certifying body, means a great deal.

Beck-Dudley: Great, thank you.

Bryant: You’re welcome.

Filmed February 2019 at AACSB's Deans Conference in Vancouver, Canada.