6 Myths About AACSB Accreditation Standards

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Thursday, February 7, 2019
Stephanie Bryant
Executive Vice President and Global Chief Accreditation Officer, AACSB International
Photo by iStock
As chief accreditation officer, I am frequently asked the same questions repeatedly, many of which are based on myths. Here are the six I hear most.

In my role as chief accreditation officer at AACSB, I often have the privilege of leading accreditation seminars and other sessions around the world where I find I am frequently asked the same questions repeatedly, many of which are based on myths that continue to circulate. I’ve narrowed down the myths to the six I hear about most frequently. In some cases these are myths that are borne out of simply misunderstanding the accreditation standards. Often the disconnect is the result of legacy knowledge that has since been replaced by new guidance. So here is the countdown of the six most common accreditation myths, with reference to the 2013 standards.

Myth No. 6: The faculty qualifications guidelines developed by your school are impacted by apportioning the count of intellectual contributions in Tables 2-1 and 2-2.

Relevant Accreditation Standards: 2, 15

Fact: Standard 2 requires an unduplicated count of intellectual contributions to demonstrate the true picture of output by department or other organizational unit (i.e., avoid inflating the number of publications). This requires splitting publications fractionally for co-authorship among faculty employed by the school so that each publication is counted only once, for data integrity purposes.

However, this in no way impacts a school’s counting of publications for Standard 15 purposes. For example, suppose two colleagues in accounting and finance at the same school co-author a piece that is published in The Accounting Review. This article would be reflected in Table 2-1 as .5 of a publication in accounting and .5 of a publication in finance. However, in Table 2-2, The Accounting Review would have one publication attributable to this one intellectual contribution. For faculty qualification purposes within the school, each faculty member would get full individual credit for the publication. So, if the school’s faculty qualification rules require three publications for "Scholarly Academic" (also referred to as SA) status, each of these two faculty would be able to independently get full credit for this publication.

The difference in reporting between Standard 2 and Standard 15 is that Standard 2 is intended to show the total output by department/organizational unit, while Standard 15 is at the individual faculty member level. To fractionalize at the individual level for faculty qualifications purposes would serve as a disincentive to co-authorships between colleagues at a school, and this is not in any way the intent of the standards.

Myth No. 5: AACSB accreditation requires schools to hire only professors/instructors who have graduated from AACSB-accredited schools.

Relevant Accreditation Standards: 5, 15

Fact: This is a common myth, and I have received more than one communication from an angry individual who demands to know why AACSB has such a rule. Standard 15 provides guidance on the composition of faculty with respect to initial preparation for their position and the ongoing activities in which a faculty member engages on a regular basis, while Standard 5 provides guidance on what AACSB expects in terms of percentages of participating and supporting faculty.

Nowhere does AACSB mandate that hires must be made from a particular type of institution (AACSB-accredited or otherwise). Instead, schools set their minimum criteria for a given job posting based on their mission, strategy, expected outcomes, financial constraints, comparisons with peer institutions, and AACSB Standards 5 and 15. It is not uncommon for an AACSB-accredited school to require a degree from an AACSB-accredited school as a minimum criterion; however, that is a school decision that they are entitled to make, and is not in any way a requirement of an AACSB accreditation standard.

Myth No. 4: A faculty member must publish two peer-reviewed journal articles in order to be classified as a Scholarly Academic.

Relevant Accreditation Standards: 15, 2

Fact: I hear this declaration from all over the world and it bears clarification. AACSB Standard 15 provides a two-by-two classification scheme intended to promote a high-quality and diverse faculty. A Scholarly Academic normally possesses a doctoral degree emphasizing foundational discipline-based research and has sustained ongoing activities and substantive academic engagement activities that support that status. The word “normally” is intentionally used in the standards, so I refer you to Standard 15 to see how SA status might be appropriate and acceptable for an individual with less than a doctoral degree as described above.

Standard 15 provides a non-exhaustive list of academic engagement activities that would ordinarily be appropriate for a Scholarly Academic, including production of scholarship outcomes consistent with Standard 2, service on editorial boards or committees, editorships, and a number of other examples. Neither Standard 2 nor Standard 15 prescribe any outright combination, number, or type of intellectual contributions that an individual must produce for a faculty member to be classified as a Scholarly Academic. Rather, Standard 15 specifically indicates that it is the school’s responsibility to develop appropriate criteria consistent with the school’s mission, expected outcomes, and strategies.

So where did this “two-in-five” rule come from? The “two-in-five” criteria was a widely used criterion that arose under the 2003 standards and was often specified by schools as the test for "Academically Qualified" (AQ) status under that set of standards. However, even then it was not mandated by AACSB accreditation standards. It simply arose over time as a generally accepted criterion.

Similarly, the 2013 accreditation standards do not prescribe a number of publications or scholarly outcomes that an individual must produce to be an SA. The school sets this criterion consistent with its mission, and by reference, with what one would ordinarily expect at schools with similar missions. When in doubt, a school should consult with its AACSB staff liaison and peer institutions to determine if the school’s faculty qualification guidelines appear to be consistent with mission and relative to its peers.

If you have an upcoming peer review visit scheduled, it’s a good idea to run your faculty qualification guidelines developed by your school by your peer review team for review and input prior to the visit. If you receive peer review input that your guidelines appear to be inconsistent with your stated mission and peer comparison groups, it is appropriate to change those guidelines as needed. Be sure this is an activity in which faculty are highly engaged.

Myth No. 3: AACSB accreditation requires schools to teach all courses in English.

Relevant Accreditation Standard: 12

Fact: There is no requirement that AACSB-accredited schools teach all courses in English. In fact, as of now we have 113 accredited schools whose primary language of instruction is not English, and 24 accredited schools whose primary language of instruction is English but who offer at least one additional degree program in another language. Standard 12 speaks to the ability of faculty to teach across all delivery modes, and to their preparation to teach diverse students and perspectives in an inclusive environment. Beyond that, schools are free to offer courses and entire degree programs in whatever language is appropriate for their location, mission, and strategy.

Myth No. 2: Assurance of learning processes require learning objectives to be measured every year and all students in the population to be assessed.

Relevant Accreditation Standard: 8

Fact: I often hear that the assurance of learning (AoL) process consumes an inordinate amount of resources for the school to comply with Standard 8. Here are the facts. The outcomes of AoL are more important than the process. This is not to say that there aren’t best practices for how to construct an efficient and effective assurance of learning system for your school. We offer robust AoL seminars all over the world, and I also highly recommend our Assessment and Impact Conference for a full understanding of best practices relative to assessment theory. See all of our accreditation-related events.

However, the intent of assurance of learning should not be lost in an effort to comply with a check-list system that may, in fact, fail to demonstrate student learning or that the school’s curriculum was informed and improved as a result of the assurance of learning process, which is the ultimate goal of Standard 8 and assurance of learning.

A related misconception is that every learning objective must be assessed every year. While Standard 8 does not dictate a number of times a given learning objective must be measured, best practices from assessment theory generally lead schools to measure each learning objective twice within their five-year accreditation cycle. Changes to the curriculum flow from the analysis of these assessments, and that is what we mean by “closing the loop.”

Additionally, sampling is completely appropriate, as long as the sample is free from sample bias. For example, let’s say you have a learning objective related to ethical behavior and you measure that in a core course that all of your business majors take and for which there are ordinarily 20 sections per year. I see schools that would then, in this example, measure all 20 sections every single year, which is entirely unnecessary. Instead, choose some sections to sample that will yield an unbiased result. Ordinarily, best practices would dictate that you draw the sample twice within your five-year accreditation cycle, as opposed to every year.

Keep your learning goals, objectives, and assessment limited to what is needed to achieve your goal of demonstrating high-quality student learning outcomes and how your curriculum is improved by your assurance of learning process. That is the goal of AoL.

Myth No. 1: AACSB accreditation standards convey hard-and-fast rules that have no flexibility at the school level.

Relevant Accreditation Standards: Most of them, but especially 5 and 15

Fact: There is a reason I listed this as myth No. 1. It comes up repeatedly in committee discussions, on peer review teams, in volunteer training, in seminars, and at conferences. The word “normally” appears 56 times in the standards and appendices, and that is entirely intentional to the 2013 standards. AACSB standards are mission-based and intended to be applied with regard to a school’s mission, strategies, and expected outcomes.

We see the disconnect most acutely in the application of Standard 15, which states “normal” percentages for each category of faculty qualifications. In every case, the qualifier “normally” is used with accompanying language that allows a school to make its case when the percentages are less than the guidelines stated within the standard. Many factors go into what a school’s actual percentages are, and small schools are particularly susceptible to large swings in percentages with only one or two faculty vacancies. I use Standard 15 here as one example. There are other percentages that appear through the standards.

Page 3 of the 2013 standards states the following:

AACSB recognizes that high-quality management education is achieved around the world in different ways, which requires the association to adapt its approaches to accreditation to different cultural situations. Accordingly, the association has developed and implemented these standards as guidelines that may be interpreted and applied in different ways in different countries or regions of the world. AACSB implements these adaptive strategies to support high-quality management education and scholarship wherever it occurs, but schools still must demonstrate that their programs align with the standards. Evaluations must be based on the quality of the learning experience and scholarly outcomes, not rigid interpretation of standards. (emphasis added)

If your percentages are lower than the guideline percentages in the standards, the burden is on the school to show how it is demonstrating high-quality outcomes. It is likely there will still be a peer review team discussion, but high-quality outcomes will help the school to make its case.

I hope this guidance is helpful to everyone in clarifying what is said and meant in the 2013 accreditation standards. As always, feel free to email me at [email protected] about these or other standards you would like clarification on, which might warrant a follow-up article.

Stephanie Bryant
Executive Vice President and Global Chief Accreditation Officer, AACSB International
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