Maximizing the Capstone Experience for Future Success

As we move beyond the 2016 presidential race and into 2017, looming changes on the horizon will impact the global economy, potentially slow down globalization and change the direction of future growth. There will be uncharted territory facing the global business environment.

The new administration has promised to alter how business transactions are conducted. There is also a concern that future business relationships will no longer follow traditional paths, and that the new path contains uncertainty. Some of the proposed changes include new perspectives on international trade, a rejuvenation of job creation in the manufacturing sector, and new rules and approaches to foreign direct investment.

These changes will have short-, medium-, and long-term impacts on the triple bottom line – people, profit and planet. The uncertainty from these changes will most certainly erode years of trust between institutions across multiple industries. The gut reaction is to assume therefore that existing mistrust between business and institutions of higher education will continue to grow.

One way to change this is by rethinking and reframing the capstone experience. A reframed capstone experience brings about positive change on the people aspect of the triple bottom line restoring and strengthening the relationship between industry and academia.


The people aspect of the triple bottom line includes recruiting, hiring and retaining talent. Based on the potential for uncertainty, a shift will occur in how talent is brought into the organization, from thinking about recruiting for traditional organizational roles toward roles with a more globally focused point of view.

The need for functional one-dimensional managers, in most cases, will be obsolete. A more multi-dimensional role emerges within the organization, requiring managers to think more globally. This does not imply managing as an expatriate or being focused on where the company conducts business; instead it reframes thinking about the organization more holistically. Some examples of this type of role include incorporating the managerial functions of accounting, finance and marketing into the overall strategy of the organization. In order to recruit the talent needed to execute a multi-dimensional strategy, the traditional approach to recruiting shifts.

A partnership is needed between industry and academia, with industry reframing its view of the degree as a one-dimensional indicator of future performance and academia shifting its view from the traditional course approach to an experiential learning approach. Getting academia to recognize this shift is tantamount to getting the Titanic to turn miles ahead of the iceberg. The reaffirmation of the Higher Education Act (HEA) and other national initiatives may accelerate this shift.

Higher Education

The higher education landscape is also set to experience change heading into 2017, as two issues re-emerge into the national spotlight.

The first is greater institutional accountability. The current mantra is that institutions of higher learning do not hold themselves accountable similar to ways a publicly traded organization would. The level of accountability is analogous to a marshmallow, somewhat sturdy on the outside but soft in the middle. There is a renewed effort to develop quantitative and qualitative measures to place value on the undergraduate degree. Specifically, we will see accrediting bodies receive focused attention at the federal and state levels on how they hold themselves, the accreditation process and institutions to a higher level of accountability.

The second issue is that of the value proposition attached to a college degree. The student debt default rate vs. offering free college tuition debate has re-emerged and is gaining additional momentum as institutions look for alternative ways to drive enrollment. With the recent collapse of several for-profit institutions, an increased number of academic honesty violations at traditional institutions, and high-profile entrepreneurs and venture capitalists offering prospective students money to bypass college to pursue other interests, the value of the degree is back in question. Adding to this discussion are the recent outcropping of coding boot camps, microcredentials and quick-credentialing options.

The inclusion of these two issues, along with any action items stemming from them, will help shape future policy decisions. The Higher Education Act (HEA) is overdue for renewal and will most likely include language designed to cover each of these issues, and resulting institutional changes likely will focus on increased measures for the assessment of learning and a more robust approach to experiential learning. One way to increase the value of experiential learning is through the capstone experience.

The Capstone Experience

Upon completing an undergraduate business degree, graduates are expected to have achieved certain levels of competencies. These competencies are broken down into three components: knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs). Students are measured against the knowledge they acquire, the skills they develop and the abilities they can demonstrate.

There are two instances in which student learning is measured: from freshman year through senior year and from the point when the student transfers into an institution until degree completion. One way to ensure students in both circumstances are measured with consistency is through a capstone experience.

The capstone  experience assesses the culmination of student learning and exposes the student to a global way of thinking. It does not include exposure to new knowledge, but rather the synthesis of core business concepts. Students should be able to clearly demonstrate the ability to connect the various aspects of business into a cohesive model of understanding. Three main goals of a capstone experience are to prepare students for the transition to a career, extend a current career or provide for a new career opportunity.

There are multiple ways in which a capstone course can be administered. At most institutions the capstone consists of a one- or two-course sequence designed to give students a final opportunity to demonstrate  KSAs, often measured by critical thinking, problem-solving, analytical reasoning and writing literacy. In some cases, a capstone course can be an interdisciplinary experience covering all of the areas of a degree program. In other cases, a more effective approach is to have a discipline-specific capstone course covering all of the topic areas in a specific program. The discipline-specific approach is used in undergraduate business programs.

The overarching goal of the capstone experience is to make the academic experience relevant by providing a culminating learning event that is connected to a professional experience. Ultimately, students should be able to demonstrate to their employers the ability to view the organization from a global perspective and to see how their role fits into this view.

The SNHU Undergraduate Capstone

The SNHU capstone course is part of the business core, a set of foundational business courses providing students with the key learning components of the undergraduate business degree. The capstone is intended to provide an authentic, real-world learning experience. It is required for graduation and therefore encompasses both types of previously mentioned learning instances. All undergraduate business students are assessed on the learning outcomes of the capstone course, regardless of how they entered the institution. The undergraduate business capstone experience incorporates a simulation based on a real-world business scenario.

The simulation is run by CAPSIM, an ACBSP-accredited third-party vendor. It provides students with the opportunity to manage a business wearing multiple hats and performing different managerial roles. At SNHU the capstone course is used as a way for students to demonstrate two key outcomes. The first is an understanding of a set of common professional components (CPCs) recognized by ACBSP as being critical components of the undergraduate business degree.

The second demonstrable outcome occurs when the student achieves the competencies of the course, as measured in the following ways:

·   Communication skills: Students are given the opportunity to demonstrate an ability to communicate effectively

·     Analytical skills: Students use of quantitative and qualitative methods of analysis, data and statistical techniques.

·     Problem-solving skills: Students identify complex problems, analyze them and find innovative solutions.

·     Global focus: Students are given a multidisciplinary global perspective to better understand the international business environment and to make better business decisions.

·     Strategic approach: Students are given the opportunity to think and plan strategically when making business decisions.

It is important to not treat the capstone course as just another part of the degree requirement, as the impact it can have is farther-reaching than any other course in the program. An academic initiative such as the capstone experience and the positive results achieved from it strengthen the relationship between higher education and industry, helping to repair the relationship and re-establishing trust.

The overarching goal of the capstone experience requires graduating business students to demonstrate knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) in the connection between theoretical knowledge and real-world applications. The capstone experience is a culminating event in the undergraduate business degree and as such, it should set the stage for future relationships. The capstone experience act as a catalyst between industry and academia. The positive results from the capstone experience reassures employers that the students they hire, promote, or retain have a demonstrated, deeper understanding of business functions in the ever-changing global marketplace.

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