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Apr 01, 2021, 05:57AM

The Credibility of Quantic

What is it about the Quantic School of Business & Technology that has so many people hellbent on discrediting it?

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If you’ve explored the websites of any graduate-level business schools in the past few years, it’s more than likely you’ve been subsequently solicited by a targeted advertisement for one of the MBA programs offered by the Quantic School of Business & Technology.

Officially created by Pedago LLC in 2014, and first presented in its degree-granting form as “Smartly” in 2016, Quantic has gradually compiled impressive collections of both allies and critics in the five years since its MBA programs were first unveiled. In fact, it’s no challenge at all to find an online forum where Quantic, its students and its graduates, are all accused of perpetrating some robust form of fraud against all of academia. It’s not at all uncommon to see these charges leveled against Quantic directly in the comments sections of otherwise anodyne promotional posts supplied by the school on its Facebook and Instagram pages.

What is it about the Quantic School of Business & Technology that has so many people hellbent on discrediting it? There are three major reasons for this phenomenon, and all of them are inextricably linked to Quantic’s marketing pitch. Those same prodigious promotional hallmarks that’ve transformed Quantic into an exceedingly attractive target for scores of business school hopefuls across the globe have simultaneously stoked the collective ires of many people who’ve already earned MBAs, and further enraged countless others lurking on the periphery of acceptance to degree-granting business programs.

Here are the three reasons why everyone seems to have a problem with the Quantic School of Business & Technology—except for its students.

—It’s selective: Although several antagonistically inclined online auditors of Quantic have attempted to paint it in the same shade as another free, online, degree-granting school—University of the People—there are several clear distinctionsbetween the two. One is the mobile-friendly delivery system that supports all of Quantic’s course content. Another is the admission rate.

University of the People has a 100% acceptance rate. If you wish to attend the school, and you’re only interested in the content of the education without any of the prestige associated with the institution granting the degree, they’ll accept you.

The odds of attaining acceptance into Quantic are comparatively minuscule. In a 2021 article in the Financial Times, Quantic president and former Rosetta Stone CEO Tom Adams declared that Quantic received 60,000 applications for its 6000 available enrollment slots in 2020, placing the school’s acceptance rate at 10 percent. This means 54,000 rejection notifications from Quantic were received by aspiring MBA students, many of whom longed to be admitted to a mobile-first business school that would grant them a graduate-level business education—and the most cherished of all three-letter business degrees—for $9600 or less.

Rejection foments resentment with unfailing consistency. A considerable portion of the hatred felt for Harvard by the students and alumni of other Ivy League schools stems from the fact that tickets to several of those schools were punched in the wake of rejection from Harvard. As my Harvard-educated friend once casually (and haughtily) asked me, “Next to Harvard, isn’t every school considered a safety school?”

In a recent cluster of about 900 newly enrolled HBS students, more than 25 percent completed their undergraduate education at an Ivy League university. In addition, about 30 percent of the admitted students came from only 10 different schools, all of which are routinely ranked among the 15 best universities in the U.S.

Quantic (back when it was named the Smartly Institute) sparked concerns in some onlookers when it unveiled its first crop of admitted students in 2016. Quantic’s seven percent acceptance rate provided the somewhat misleading impression that Quantic’s programs were even more difficult to gain access to than those of Harvard Business School, and the list of schools that Quantic’s matriculants had previously graduated from—all of the Ivy League institutions, plus Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago—did nothing to dispel that sentiment.

Quantic advertised a free MBA, which conveyed a message of accessibility to many people hoping they could simultaneously enhance their levels of education and career achievements without incurring any direct financial burden through their pursuit of a graduate degree. This number of applicants was further inflated by people who didn’t even possess undergraduate degrees—an automatic disqualifier from attending any institution that hopes to receive or maintain accreditation for its programs.

For almost every conceivable product, there are more buyers at a lower price, and the prospect of a free MBA was undoubtedly going to entice people to vie for the limited number of available slots in Quantic’s inaugural cohort and subsequent cohorts, including many applicants with elite academic and professional backgrounds.

The aftermath of the unveiling of Quantic’s first cohort left some rejected applicants feeling like their hopes for admission had been synthetically inflated only to be unceremoniously dashed by colorful graphics that intentionally celebrated the elite pedigrees of the accepted students, and inadvertently reinforced the chasm between the haves and have-nots. As more than one person stated, if Quantic’s objective was to increase accessibility to business education, why did it seem like access to Quantic’s free MBA program had been restricted to those students who needed it the least? To some people, it was a clear-cut case of the rich getting richer. However, it was merely the logical outcome of an open competition pitting a vast number of applicants against one another for a limited number of admission slots.

The selective nature of Quantic’s MBA program understandably attracts a double dose of animosity toward the program. It’s one thing to be denied entry into an MBA program that will extract more than $120,000 in tuition and fee payments from you by the time graduation rolls around. However, to be denied entry from a selective, free institution, and thereby sentenced to pay six-figure tuition figures (or student loans sums) to schools with a similar level of selectivity, is doubly disheartening.

—It’s accredited**: When Quantic School of Business and Technology launched in 2016, it was a wholly unaccredited institution. This was a fact that many of its detractors were quick to point out. Despite the fact that Quantic’s yield included an elite crop of students that rivaled those of the best business schools in the world in terms of pre-enrollment academic and professional achievements, many were incensed at the idea of Quantic referring to itself as a true MBA program. After all, without accreditation, diplomas from Quantic and the degrees awarded within the four corners of those documents weren’t worth the paper they were printed on, right?

Not exactly.

This is where we address the thorny issue of accreditation as it relates to business schools and their degree programs. The simplest way to address the double asterisk above is by dissecting what many of Quantic’s detractors believe to be the slam-dunk argument against its existence: Quantic does not presently possess regional accreditation, which is lauded as the surest indicator of a business program’s academic and procedural integrity. Moreover, Quantic doesn’t yet possess accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), the two most respected national accreditation institutions for U.S. business schools. Therefore, Quantic is said to be a scam school.

Unfortunately, this accusation betrays a nearly ubiquitous misunderstanding of where accreditations come from, how they’re acquired, and what it means if a school operates without them.

First, let’s evaluate how a business school goes about acquiring regional accreditation for its degree programs. As an institution located in Washington, D.C. (conspicuously and equidistantly placed between Georgetown University and George Washington University—two of its partnering institutions), Quantic is subject to the rules imposed by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education for determining its suitability for receiving its regional accreditation.

According to the MSCHE's Standards for Accreditation and Requirements for Affiliation handbook (downloadable here), there are 15 requirements an institution must fulfill in order to become eligible for the MSCHE's review process. First is for an institution to become licensed to award degrees by the appropriate authorizing body within its geographic region. In the case of Quantic, that applicable institution is the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which Quantic achieved licensure from in 2016, back when it was known simply as “Smartly.”

Very careful attention must be drawn to points two and three. Simply stated, the institution seeking regional accreditation for its degree programs by the MSCHE must already be in operation with students actively participating in degree programs before it can achieve regional accreditation. What’s more, the institution must already have graduated at least one class by the time it applies for that accreditation.

To top it off, after an institution becomes eligible to apply for regional accreditation, it typically takes between 24 to 30 months before the school’s programs are even granted “candidate” status by the MSCHE. Any new academic institutions introducing degreed business programs—no matter how cutting-edge or conveniently delivered those programs might be —are mandated to produce graduates from those programs without formal regional accreditation for several years.

What’s more, the ACBSP requires business programs to receive regional accreditation before they can even apply for its nationally recognized accreditation level, and the AACSBplainly states that most applying institutions must wait four to five years before their applications are approved. In practice, this means that even a school with the name recognition of Johns Hopkins University had to wait a full 10 years before its Carey School of Business was awarded AACSB accreditation.

If Johns Hopkins didn’t get to cut in line with respect to amassing accreditations for its business programs, neither will Quantic. That said, Quantic’s degree programs have received national accreditation from the Distance Education Accreditation Commission (DEAC), which is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Beyond that, faulting Quantic for doing precisely what they should be doing if they intend to collect additional accreditations—including minting new graduates and slapping MBA degrees on them—is ludicrous. It’s equally asinine to castigate Quantic for failing to carry accreditations that it’s too young of an institution to even apply for, let alone possess.

Despite the inanity of the argument over accreditation standards, Quantic’s adversaries will surely continue to disparage the institution right up until the point that it acquires its final accreditation. That means this line of argumentation has a yet-to-be-determined sunset date, which will probably be within the next five to 10 years. However, on any of the future dates when Quantic stockpiles further accreditations, I predict that the hate emanating from the people making the accreditation argument will only be further amplified by additional furor over Quantic’s newly won status as a business school with universally accredited programs.

—One more thing: As a sub-argument to buttress the point about the limitations imposed by their favorite target’s lack of certain accreditations, Quantic’s antagonists frequently introduce the fact that a lack of regional accreditation disqualifies credits earned by Quantic’s students and graduates from being transferred to academic programs at other degree-granting business schools.

Addressing this argument requires a two-tiered approach. First, the selective nature of Quantic means that the majority of its competitors are top-tier business schools that enroll a similar caliber of students. Most of the people asking questions about the transferability of Quantic’s credits to other programs needn’t concern themselves with the answer; they aren’t competitive candidates for acceptance to Quantic’s MBA programs.

The norm amongst the schools Quantic competes against for high-caliber enrollees is not to accept transfer credits under anycircumstances. Yale doesn’t accept transfer credits from Harvard. Stanford doesn’t accept transfer credits from MIT. If none of those schools will accept transfer credits from one another, does it matter if they also won’t accept transfer credits from Quantic? For what it’s worth, Quantic doesn’t accept transfer credits from them either.

—It’s either free, or it’s inexpensive: If I’d paid tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars for an MBA degree, and someone else received one for “free,” I’d be upset, too. This jealousy-laden sentiment lays the groundwork for what economists have occasionally referred to as a slum-clearing argument: I don’t like the idea of people living in slums, so I want those slums cleared away, even if the residents of those slums have no better options for housing, and even if the existence of those slums has no direct effect on the quality of my life.

What people don’t appreciate is the idea of education (or status)conferred upon some people for free when others had to pay a premium to attain it. This ignores that scholarships, financial aid and other inducements have frequently been used to lure high achievers into certain schools so that those schools can promote the presence and achievements of the admitted individuals. In the case of Quantic, the school is honest. Businesses pay for the right to recruit Quantic’s graduates, which defrays the cost of attendance for the majority of Quantic’s students.

If the degrees are valid, Quantic’s providing a significant benefit to the bank accounts and career prospects of its students. If you believe that Quantic’s degrees aren’t valid, and that its growing, global collection of accomplished alumni is merely a makeshift fraternity to which membership is gained by getting into—and out of—a school of dubious credentials, who cares? They’re not bothering you.

The truest measure of the validity of a business school’s degrees is whether or not employers are willing to treat those degrees as valid during the application, interview and evaluation processes. I’ve seen the indictments online that Quantic’s degrees will never be held in the same high regard as those of an institution like Harvard during a job application process. With more than 1,000 business schools in the U.S. presently offering MBA degrees, falling short in such a comparison would place Quantic in good company. However, when accomplishments, achievements and other supporting credentials are juxtaposed between Quantic’s MBA holders and MBA graduates from many other schools, I’m sure the majority of Quantic’s alumni will gladly live with the results of such comparisons.

Discussion

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