St. Thomas' Opus College of Business Earns AACSB Accreditation

Business education at the University of St. Thomas -- a hallmark of the university since adding a “commercial course” to its liberal arts curriculum in 1895 -- has earned accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB) effective immediately.

Fewer than 5 percent of the world’s business schools hold AACSB accreditation, which is widely regarded as the highest standard of quality for business education and can take years to achieve.   The accreditation also makes credentialed business schools eligible for many of the top rankings of MBA programs and provides their faculty with greater research opportunities.

St. Thomas is the first private college or university in Minnesota to hold AACSB accreditation and the second university in the Twin Cities (the other is the University of Minnesota).  A total of six business schools in Minnesota are accredited by AACSB; the others are at universities in Moorhead, St. Cloud, Mankato and Duluth.

The accreditation will have an impact on more than a third of the students currently enrolled at St. Thomas, the state’s largest independent university. Of its nearly 11,000 students, 36 percent, or 3,850, are enrolled in the Opus College of Business. Thirty-eight percent of undergraduates and 32 percent of graduate students study business at the university’s campuses in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

“This accreditation represents a new high-water mark for business education at St. Thomas,” said the university’s president, Father Dennis Dease. “This highest standard of achievement in business education worldwide was made possible by the extraordinary leadership of Dean Christopher Puto and the faculty and staff of our Opus College of Business. It is also testimony to the remarkable generosity of the college’s benefactors.”

“We are committed to the idea that education is an investment, and all good investments should grow over time,” Puto said. “AACSB accreditation clearly adds value to a St. Thomas degree; it is a value not only for current students and future graduates, but for our 31,000 alumni.”

Over the past decade, St. Thomas has taken a series of key steps on the path to AACSB accreditation:

  • Combined its graduate and undergraduate business divisions into what is now the Opus College of Business.
  • Hired Dean Puto in 2002, formerly the business dean at Georgetown University.
  • Added a full-time, day MBA program to the graduate curriculum and added or modified other programs to comply with AACSB guidelines.
  • Added 52 full-time business faculty members, for a current total of 105.
  • Opened two of the most technologically advanced classroom and office buildings in the country. The $22 million Schulze Hall, home of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, opened in downtown Minneapolis in 2005. The $25 million McNeely Hall opened in St. Paul in 2006.
  • Received a gift of $50 million for business programs from an anonymous donor in 2008 (it had received a similar gift of $30 million a decade earlier).
  • Increased the Opus College of Business endowment to $70.1 million.

“Not only is the accreditation a tremendous accomplishment, it was essential for St. Thomas to effectively compete in the future for the brightest and best students and faculty,” said Richard Schulze, founder and chairman of Best Buy Co. Inc and a benefactor who chairs the Opus College of Business Strategic Board of Governors and sits on the university’s Board of Trustees.  “Accreditation leverages the high-quality infrastructure for business education that has been added to the St. Thomas campuses in Minneapolis and St. Paul.”

Almost since its founding 126 years ago, business has been among the most-sought-after majors at the liberal arts university.  When it launched its evening MBA program in 1974, St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota were the only two sources of graduate-level business education in the Twin Cities.  In the past 35 years, the number of graduate business programs available in the area has increased tenfold.

The Road to Accreditation

St. Thomas’ rationale for not pursuing AACSB status earlier can be traced in part to a decision in the 1970s to augment, especially at the MBA-level, its full-time faculty with adjunct or part-time faculty from the business world.  At the time, however, AACSB placed a greater emphasis on a more traditional academic model; its accreditation required a higher ratio of full-time professors.

“While St. Thomas has continued to use adjunct faculty who bring a wealth of experience into our classrooms, we gradually increased the number of full-time faculty to achieve greater balance,” Puto explained. “Meanwhile, the AACSB clarified its standards affirming the value of adjunct faculty in helping schools accomplish their missions. In light of this growing convergence, the university’s Board of Trustees decided to pursue AACSB accreditation.”

The Opus College of Business filed its AACSB application in 2006.  An extensive internal review and evaluation process that followed included development of a plan to meet 20 applicable AACSB standards. The plan was accepted in 2008 and implemented over the course of two academic cycles. The final phase of the process, a site visit by a team of business deans from AACSB-accredited schools, took place in November 2010.  AACSB board members voted to approve St. Thomas’ accreditation last month.

“This may be the most important milestone in the history of business education at St. Thomas, although that will be for history to confirm,” Puto said, “We believe we’ve always offered outstanding business programs here; this is a significant external validation of that. It could not have been accomplished without a faculty that is on par with the nation’s finest business schools, and without the generosity of donors committed to the kind of education offered by our Opus College of Business -- an education grounded in values, ethics and the liberal arts.”

“We warmly congratulate St. Thomas and Opus College of Business Dean Dr. Christopher Puto, and welcome them into the AACSB family of internationally accredited business schools,” said John Fernandes, president and CEO of AACSB International. “This accreditation represents the highest achievement for an educational institution and its college of business.”

The Opus College of Business’ accreditation will be recognized in April at the AACSB International conference and annual meeting in New York.

About AACSB International

AACSB International (The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), founded in 1916, is a membership association of almost 1,200 educational institutions, businesses and other organizations in 74 countries and territories. AACSB's mission is to advance quality management education worldwide through accreditation and thought leadership. AACSB accreditation is the mark of quality distinction most widely sought after by business schools — less than 5 percent worldwide have earned the achievement. As the premier membership and accreditation body for institutions offering undergraduate, master's and doctorate degrees in business and accounting, the association also conducts a wide array of conferences and seminar programs at locations throughout the world. AACSB's global headquarters is located in Tampa, Florida, USA, and its Asia headquarters is located in Singapore.

About the UST Opus College of Business

With a vision to educate highly principled global business leaders, the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business offers undergraduate concentrations in 13 fields and master’s degrees in seven programs, including day and evening MBA programs.  The school enrolls another 4,300 participants annually in executive education classes.

Learn more about AACSB accreditation and St. Thomas.