2024 Trends in Business Education

I recently attended some great sessions at the International Accreditation Council for Business Education annual conference in Memphis, Tennessee. Here is a wrap-up of some of the trends happening right now in business education.

1. AI is here.

Dr. Tim Dasey, our keynote speaker, spent thirty years at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. He led groups working on AI, gaming, biotechnology, system analysis, software, and human-machine teaming. He discussed the potential of AI to drive paradigm shifts in educational models through personalized learning and new ways of measuring skills like creativity and critical thinking. AI tools have the potential to automate educational content delivery and generate infinite case studies for experiential learning. However, Tim also emphasized that the human role is still important – teachers will need to guide students’ use of AI and help develop their judgment, leadership, and other durable skills that AI cannot teach on its own. Overall, Tim’s presentation highlighted both the opportunities AI creates to reimagine education, as well as the ongoing importance of human teaching to develop well-rounded students who can think critically about new technologies. Some interesting quotes:

  • “In HE, we are teaching coding, not how to manage a coder…” (In context, AI is now your coder. How do we teach students to think at a higher level to give AI instructions to code?)
  • “We need to stop comparing AI to the top 1% of humanity… AI has a higher IQ than most of us.” (In context, AI is far better than the average worker. We need to start training people to leverage it.)
  • “If you make teams of AI, they will perform better than individually.” (In context, AI platforms can be teamed up to work together. And just like a team of people will most likely outperform an individual on the job, so will a team of AI – producing better work and results.)
  • “You can replace people with algorithms if people aren’t good at the judgements.” (In context, humans sometimes fail us when making the right call on things. AI is generally better at decision making. How do we teach better judgement?)
  • “If we get better information, but we aren’t using the information, we will be replaced…” (In context, AI can and will use the information to improve. In many company failures, the information at hand is not used to make the necessary improvements. How can we teach people to use the information at hand and not remain complacent?)
  • “We don’t value leaders and politicians who change their minds, but that is the healthy thing to do when we have more information.” (As a continuation on the quote above, we also must value changes in decision making when more information is available.)

2. Advisory boards should help address skills gaps in the curriculum.

Advisory boards serve as an important link between universities and the business world to help ensure academic programs are equipping students with the relevant skills and knowledge needed to thrive in their future careers. They should be comprised of professionals from various fields and career levels who can offer different insights. The board members can share what skills are most important or lacking based on their experience hiring recent graduates or interacting with professionals currently in the field. Universities can then use this information to update their programs, courses, and learning outcomes to better prepare students with the in-demand skills and competencies that will help them succeed in their careers. Effective engagement with board members involves various activities like meetings, interacting with students, and providing program feedback. Successful advisory boards require ongoing communication, recruitment of new members, and finding ways to keep existing members engaged over time.

3. Certificates and certifications offer a way to complement academic knowledge with practical experience.

A panel discussion highlighted several key points around incorporating professional certifications into academic curriculum. Representatives from three universities discussed the process of gaining approval for new certification-focused programs and courses, which can be challenging due to bureaucracy but is important for career outcomes. Aligning curriculum directly with certification standards helps ensure students learn practical skills demanded by employers. Partnerships with credentialing bodies also provide standardized frameworks that employers trust. While certifications add value, degrees are still needed, so schools aim to combine certification prep with traditional subjects. Champions are needed to advocate for certifications internally and help students understand the career benefits.

4. Institutions should be proactive about mergers and acquisitions; they are the new norm.

A session on mergers and acquisitions in higher education was the most informative session I attended. The speakers advocated for institutions to take a more proactive, offensive strategy in considering mergers rather than a defensive one. Valuation of an institution is tough and determining an appropriate discounted cash flow rate presents challenges.

  • The higher education industry is considered very high risk given trends like decreasing enrollments. This makes it difficult to accurately assess future growth potential.
  • Discounted cash flow models in corporate settings typically rely on factors like EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) multiples, but comparable data across higher education institutions may be limited.
  • Institutions facing financial struggles may have depleted assets, making cash flow projections more uncertain.
  • Intangible assets like intellectual property need to also be taken into account.

International partnerships were floated as a potential avenue to pursue new opportunities, expand reach, and access overseas resources or student markets to address challenges at home. A few examples of successful U.S. mergers that increased scale and programs were provided, such as:

The speakers also raised open questions about valuations and overcoming regulatory hurdles to pursue strategic consolidation opportunities that could help address financial viability concerns facing some institutions. The speakers raised several open questions and challenges around valuations and regulations when pursuing strategic mergers and consolidations in higher education:

  • Valuing intangible assets like intellectual property, brands, and alumni networks presents difficulties given the lack of established models for valuing universities.
  • Determining appropriate growth and discount rates for discounted cash flow valuations is complex given the high-risk nature of the industry.
  • Regulatory approval is needed from multiple agencies like the IRS, Department of Education, state regulators which can prolong and complicate the merger process.
  • State laws sometimes prohibit certain types of cross-border mergers, as was discussed regarding New York law. This limits potential partnership opportunities.
  • Accreditation extensions must be obtained but regional accreditors may be resistant to changes, posing another hurdle.

5. Boomers might be a market we can tap into one more time, maybe through multi-generational learning.

One presentation discussed potential opportunities and challenges in serving the aging population through higher education programs. The lively discussion in the room explored creative ways colleges could develop offerings tailored for older learners through data collection, flexible credentials, and collaboration across different fields and organizations. The speaker proposed several ideas to address issues like job training, healthcare access, and social isolation facing older adults. However, folks in the room raised concerns about funding and whether these programs could save faculty jobs. While intergenerational learning and partnerships were suggested, the group acknowledged broader financial problems as government retirement programs become underfunded. A majority of the conversation focused on the idea of creating multi-generational programs that would allow knowledge sharing between younger and older students taking the same courses together. It was proposed that both generations could benefit from learning from each other, rather than just having information flow in one direction from older to younger students. The speaker saw this as an opportunity for social interaction and engagement across age groups that could help address issues like social isolation that some older adults face.


Leah Sciabarrasi, Ph.D. | Higher Education Administrator & Consultant | www.leahsciabarrasi.com