New Report Tracks the State of Accreditation

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Tuesday, November 1, 2022
By Stephanie Bryant, Suzanne Mintz
Photo by iStock/sasirin pamai
AACSB has compiled years’ worth of data to create insights into how schools are approaching the accreditation process—and how they can improve.
  • The association has released its inaugural State of Accreditation Report, which will be produced annually each September.
  • The report shows that, even during the pandemic, AACSB member schools have seen little decline in student enrollments and faculty rosters.
  • The report also explores where schools are having difficulty meeting accreditation standards and where administrators generally need the most guidance.

AACSB is the repository of rich and detailed data about trends in the field of management education, derived from surveys and accreditation reports that members annually submit to the association. Recognizing that it has both an opportunity and a responsibility to share this data with members, AACSB released its inaugural State of Accreditation Report on September 15. Through aggregated and transparent reporting, the publication provides key insights from the previous year’s accreditation visits, presenting them in a systematic and easily consumable way.

Sources include data from initial and continuous improvement peer review team reports from 2021–22, the Business School Questionnaire, the Staff Compensation and Demographics Survey, and a one-time Societal Impact Survey. For over a year, AACSB has worked vigorously to identify value-added content, develop the technology infrastructure to efficiently amalgamate insights and trends from accreditation reports, develop visualizations, and construct a web-native report.

In the process, AACSB relied on human intelligence (HI) as well as artificial intelligence (AI), employing natural language processing tools and data mining techniques such as cluster analysis. The powerful blending of HI and AI has allowed the association to craft an important story about the current landscape of business education and accreditation.

Key Insights

The report uncovered intriguing statistics in two important areas:

Student enrollment. In recent years, business schools around the world have reported declining enrollments, a trend that the media has covered regularly. But among the population of AACSB schools, enrollment trends are not following suit.

When we look at the five-year average of enrollment data that schools submitted to AACSB surveys, we see that undergraduate enrollment remained flat, with a decline of less than 1 percent over the past five years. At the same time, graduate enrollments were up by 20 percent on average over the same period. Due to the varying ways that schools submit undergraduate enrollment data, we cannot reliably report undergraduate enrollment by discipline. However, we can reliably report graduate enrollment by discipline, and here it gets interesting.

It is clear that, at the graduate level, accounting enrollments are trending downward, experiencing a five-year decline of 12 percent. But among all specialized master’s programs, accounting is the only discipline to show such a drop. Other fields are enjoying significant growth, including data analytics (which has seen a 263 percent increase in enrollment over five years), quantitative methods (75 percent), and finance (26 percent). We may surmise that potential accounting majors are choosing these majors instead. It is critical for the accounting profession to understand these enrollment trends. Only then can educators and professionals in the field take appropriate action to ensure strong and stable enrollments in accounting going forward.

Among graduate-level programs, several fields have seen significant growth in enrollments, including data analytics (263 percent), quantitative methods (75 percent), and finance (26 percent).

Faculty deployment. Over the past five years, schools saw a 14 percent growth in the deployment of part-time faculty, compared to just over 9 percent growth for full-time faculty. At the same time, survey respondents generally weathered the first full year of the pandemic without needing to significantly contract the size of their faculty to address financial shortfalls. For instance, during 2020–21, part-time faculty dropped by 4.6 percent among respondents, and full-time faculty declined by only .6 percent.

These data signal that AACSB schools might be less prone to some of the enrollment and faculty challenges being reported by the media outlets that cover management education.

The Impact of the New Standards

The report also highlighted how schools are responding to the 2020 business accreditation standards. If we zoom in on the segment of AACSB schools that underwent peer review team visits in 2021–22, we find particularly interesting insights in two areas:

Continuous Improvement Review outcomes. Given that the 2020 standards are more flexible and principles-based, we anticipated that fewer schools would require an additional year of review, known as a CIR2, to resolve standards-related issues. While it is too early to draw sweeping conclusions, the results support this supposition. Of the 121 CIR schools that opted to be visited under the 2020 standards, 5 percent received a recommendation of CIR2. Prior to the adoption of the 2020 standards, the five-year average was 15 percent.

The most challenging standards. The report analyzes the standards that were mentioned most by peer review teams and identifies the specific dimensions of these standards that presented difficulties to members.

  • Standard 1: Strategic Planning. Because many schools have experienced material reductions in budgets, they found it challenging to advance their strategies. Some also found it challenging to identify measurable objectives, list key performance indicators, and identify risk within their plans, as the standard requires.
  • Standard 3: Faculty and Professional Staff Resources. While the standard affords schools more latitude in using evidence of strong outcomes to indicate quality, schools still are expected to align their human resources with the faculty sufficiency and qualification ratios outlined in the standard. This can be challenging for schools operating under budget constraints, as they might find it hard to hire the faculty they need, and the pressure is felt most intensely in the discipline of accounting. In survey feedback, schools also related the difficulties they had faced ensuring that their faculty qualification criteria and incentive plans were congruent with their missions.
  • Standard 5: Assurance of Learning (AoL). Among the schools that received visits from peer review teams in 2021–22, several struggled to demonstrate how AoL data had been used to manage and improve the curriculum. If prior review teams had noted that schools had failed to show linkages between AoL and curriculum improvement, schools were likely to receive a CIR2 recommendation.

Best Practices and Room for Improvement

A benefit of the State of Accreditation Report is that it allows AACSB to share information of wide interest to member schools, such as recurrent themes in best practices that teams have observed during accreditation visits. For instance, teams frequently commended schools on the efforts they have made to enhance engagement and partnership, the schemes they have used to fund and incentivize faculty research, and the work they are doing to gather input from advisory boards on areas such as curriculum and technology.

The report also highlights the areas where teams commonly have offered consultative guidance. For example, teams found that schools often were not clear on the alignment between mission and scholarship. In addition, teams frequently advised schools to simplify overly complex AoL programs.

Teams frequently commended schools on their efforts to enhance engagement, incentivize faculty research, and gather input from advisory boards.

Teams also found that many schools they visited in 2021–22 were immature in their societal impact plans. This is not surprising, as societal impact was not made a focal point of accreditation until the 2020 standards. Today, an accredited school is expected to show how it plans to make a positive impact on society by embedding one or more focus areas in its strategic plan. The school should infuse these chosen areas into its curriculum (as specified in standard 4), its scholarship (standard 8), and its external engagement and partnership activities (standard 9). However, most schools are still figuring out where they want to concentrate their efforts.

While the standard does not prescribe a framework for schools to use, many have adopted the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The State of Accreditation Report finds that schools most commonly pursue SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), and SDG 5 (gender equality). To help schools achieve their goals in these areas, AACSB has released a Societal Impact Dashboard that provides users with additional data they can use to track their progress.

Looking Forward

More than 200 business schools are preparing for an accreditation review from AACSB in 2022–23. While schools are encouraged to undertake face-to-face visits in the coming year, the effects of COVID are still being experienced across the board. For that reason, AACSB will continue to support hybrid and virtual visits as well. Whether school leaders meet with teams in person or online, administrators should expect to be asked questions that relate to the following topics:

Engagement. Because this is one of the pillars of AACSB accreditation, schools must be able to demonstrate learner-to-learner and learner-to-faculty engagement no matter what mode of instruction is being used. The requirement applies whether students are attending small in-person classes, virtual programs, large lecture courses supported by graduate students, or programs that are delivered in partnership with online program managers.

Societal impact. Schools must develop a plan for how they will make a positive impact in society. This blueprint can be either a standalone micro plan or part of the school’s strategic plan. Peer review teams will ask schools to identify their chosen focus areas and their plans for evaluating their progress. Due to the highly contextual nature of this kind of work, it is up to schools to develop relevant measures of success.

AACSB made a record number of accreditation review visits in 2021–22, utilizing the services of more than 600 volunteers. The association could not have achieved such a vast reach without the incredible work of each and every participant, including team members, mentors, and committee members.

The association will continue to mine data for insights in the coming years as a new State of Accreditation Report is issued annually in September as a native web document. For now, you can share your feedback and comments on this year’s report by emailing [email protected]. Working together, we can strengthen management education around the globe.

Stephanie Bryant
Executive Vice President and Global Chief Accreditation Officer, AACSB International
Suzanne Mintz
Vice President of Accreditation, AACSB International
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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