An Inside Look at AACSB’s 2020 Business Standards Formation

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Monday, May 6, 2019
By Stephanie Bryant
Photo by iStock
Task force members have collectively led over 40 conversations with stakeholders around the world. Here's how that input is helping to shape the standards.

Update—April 7, 2020: The manner in which the 2020 business accreditation standards will be adopted by the Accreditation Council has been modified. Instead of an in-person vote that would typically be held during the Annual Business Meeting, the standards will be available to members of the Accreditation Council for approval via written consent.  

Update—March 16, 2020: The vote for the proposed new AACSB business accreditation standards has been postponed until we can bring members together at a future event in 2021. As a global organization, we believe it’s important to have full representation of our accreditation council present for this important and historic vote.

Alone we go fast. Together we go far.
—African Proverb

With another successful ICAM behind us, this seems like a natural time to provide a status update on the business accreditation standards currently under development by the Business Accreditation Task Force (BATF). Please remember that this is a work in progress and, as such, is still subject to change as the BATF continues its work and members continue to provide input.

At last month’s ICAM in Edinburgh, AACSB devoted an entire session to the proposed 2020 business accreditation standards with close to 400 people attending. The co-chairs of the task force, Geoff Perry and Nancy Bagranoff, and I facilitated the conversation, both updating attendees on the current considerations and also taking the opportunity to receive additional input from a large and globally diverse audience. We asked the audience for a show of hands on how many people were aware of the task force’s work, and virtually every hand went up. That is a great sign, as it reassures us that we are accomplishing our goal of transparency and openness of process, as well as global awareness of the efforts and emphasis on member input.

To date, BATF members have collectively led over 40 conversations all around the world and with all types of audiences. These groups include members of our AACSB affinity groups, deans, associate deans, and participants at AACSB and other events globally, as well as members of AACSB governing groups, including the Innovation Committee, the Business Practices Council, all five operating and policy committees, and the board of directors.

This input has encompassed large and small schools, public and private schools, and members all around the world. We have also received over 200 feedback responses from individuals who have expressed personal opinions on how they would like to see the standards evolve. All of this input has been synthesized and examined for emerging themes to determine what members desire as a direction of the new standards. Following is an update on how the standards are developing based on this input.

The Criticality of the AACSB Mission and Vision

The work of the BATF does not take place in a vacuum. Fulfillment of the mission and vision is foremost in our minds as we go about the constant deliberations taking place within the BATF.

The mission of AACSB International is to foster engagement, accelerate innovation, and amplify impact in business education.

This mission is aligned with AACSB accreditation standards for business schools. To fulfill its mission, AACSB must engage regularly with business, faculty, institutions, and students so that business education is in sync with business practice. We must encourage and accelerate innovation to continually improve business education and further its positive impact on business and society. AACSB should amplify that impact. The new standards will continue to emphasize engagement, innovation, and impact as pillars.

The vision of AACSB International is to transform business education for global prosperity.

Business and business schools are a force for good, contributing to a well-functioning global economy and society. AACSB’s vision of business schools having a positive social and economic impact will be driven by accreditation standards that support this ideal.

Standards Structure

Based on current deliberations, we are likely to propose a reduced number of standards that in essence are more principles-based and outcomes-focused. We think 10 is about the right number of standards, give or take one or two (remember, it’s still a work in progress). This reduction from the current number of 15 standards allows us to focus on principles as opposed to rules, and will allow schools more flexibility in how they demonstrate alignment with the standards.

The framework is shaping up as follows: Guiding Principles, Eligibility Criteria, and Business Accreditation Standards, with the standards framed within three constructs: (1) Strategy, Mission, and Societal Impact; (2) Learner Success; and (3) Thought Leadership. Within these three constructs, the importance of business schools engaging in activities that have a positive impact on society will be emphasized to highlight alignment with AACSB’s mission and vision, as well as with the pillars of engagement, innovation, and impact.

Societal impact will be defined and operationalized by each school with respect to its own mission, strategies, and resources. For example, a school with a mission to attract and develop underserved populations might have strategies related to societal impact on its local community. A global research university might demonstrate societal impact through its research that informs global policy.

The mission-driven nature of AACSB accreditation will continue to guide how each school demonstrates all parts of alignment with the standards.

Standards Content

Strategy, Mission, and Societal Impact

In addition to content related to societal impact, this first construct of “Strategy, Mission, and Societal Impact” will also likely continue to stress the importance of a well-formulated strategic plan focused on the school’s mission, and will contain standards related to attracting, retaining, and developing faculty and professional staff consistent with each school’s mission and strategic plan.

At the ICAM bonus session, we heard participants say that, although there have been some challenges with the current structure for meeting faculty academic and practice ratios, with some modification, it still provides a worthy framework. The sentiment was that schools need more time for this framework to mature and be inculcated within the business school. There was some desire among attendees of the bonus session to allow schools more flexibility with how faculty are deployed across degree programs so that more applied programs can be led by highly qualified practice professionals who do not necessarily hold PhDs. Programs in areas such as entrepreneurship, big data, artificial intelligence, and tax are examples of programs for which “professors of practice” may be the best-qualified faculty who have cutting-edge knowledge of practice.

There is also interest in renaming the “Other” category to highlight the important contributions of faculty who currently fall within this classification to capture one or more roles not reflected in the current framework. This, too, is under discussion by the BATF.

Learner Success

The second construct of “Learner Success” is intended to broaden the definition of who learners of the future are and to recognize what competencies learners will be expected to demonstrate well into the future. The BATF believes that a growth mindset, global acumen, and technological agility, as part of an innovative and current curriculum, will be important components of the new standards. Executive education, micro-credentials, non-degree programs, collaborative partnerships, and lifelong learning are paradigms that are expected to be valued and captured in the standards.

Schools will be expected to have quality processes in place to demonstrate successful learning outcomes, but we expect schools will have more flexibility in designing their systems for doing so. Leveraging national assurance of learning systems of unquestionable high quality is under discussion as part of a more principles-based and outcomes-focused set of standards.

Thought Leadership

The third construct is “Thought Leadership,” where outputs and outcomes of faculty intellectual contributions will be captured. Emphasis here will be on impact of intellectual contributions as opposed to the current system, which in some cases has been reduced to counting the number of peer-reviewed journals as a sole measure of qualified faculty for AACSB accreditation purposes.

Research connected to and conducted in collaboration with practice will be encouraged and valued by AACSB, while recognizing that basic discovery research also drives respect within the academy and is a major goal of research-oriented universities. The new standards will explicitly recognize that there is room for valuing all types of intellectual contributions, consistent with a school’s mission.

Accreditation Processes

The BATF is focusing first on accreditation standards before working to streamline accreditation processes, but I am confident in saying that a goal of the new standards is to reduce the administrative burden of accreditation, at both the school and the volunteer levels. We will work on accreditation processes over the coming months and determine how we can create a less burdensome system while still retaining the high quality that is the hallmark of AACSB accreditation.

What’s Next

Currently, the BATF is conducting a series of calls to work through the big issues, such as faculty qualifications, assurance of learning, and what kinds of outcome measures will be embedded in the standards. Outcome measures present a particular challenge with a principles-based systems, and we are fortunate that recently the AACSB Innovation Committee, under the leadership of incoming AACSB board chair, John Elliott, focused on this very question. Their work will be enormously helpful to the BATF in helping us include outcome measures that focus on impact.

We expect to write the standards draft over the next several months, after which the Business Accreditation Policy Committee and the AACSB Board of Directors will provide additional input. Exposure Draft 1 will be issued concurrent with the Global Accreditation Conference in San Antonio, Texas, September 15–17, 2019. The exposure draft will be discussed with membership during both a plenary session and a bonus session, and a public comment period will be open for approximately two months. During this time, we will actively continue to seek feedback from members and stakeholders to improve the initial version and ensure we are capturing a consensus of membership sentiment.

Exposure Draft 2 will be issued concurrent with the 2020 Deans Conference and will be open to public comment for approximately 30 days. A membership vote is planned for the ICAM business meeting in Denver, Colorado, in April 2020. Representatives from accredited schools are entitled to one vote, and a majority of those representatives must vote to approve the standards in order for them to pass.

Stay tuned for future updates and the first exposure draft. We welcome all feedback, whether from groups or individuals.  

I cannot tell you how excited we are for this next chapter of AACSB accreditation. It’s a great time to be an AACSB-accredited school. Together we are going to go far in achieving our vision of business education being a force for good in society.

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