The business environment is undergoing profound changes, spurred by powerful demographic shifts, global economic forces, and emerging technologies. At the same time, society is increasingly demanding that companies become more accountable for their actions, exhibit a greater sense of social responsibility, and embrace more sustainable practices. These trends send a strong signal that what business needs today is much different from what it needed yesterday or will need tomorrow.
Not surprisingly, the same factors impacting business also are changing higher education. In today's increasingly dynamic environment, business schools and accounting academic units1 must respond to the business world's changing needs by providing relevant knowledge and skills to the communities they serve. They must innovate and invest in intellectual capital; they must develop new programs, curricula, and courses. Moreover, declining public support for higher education has placed business schools and accounting programs under additional economic pressure, which has shifted the mix of teaching and learning models they employ and affected the future of faculty and staff.
In this context of constant change, standards and processes for business and accounting accreditation must be designed not only to validate quality accounting and management education and impactful research, but also to provide leadership, encouragement, and support for change in business schools and accounting academic units. The standards should also provide a platform for business schools and accounting academic units to work together to advance quality management and accounting education worldwide through AACSB.
The fundamental purpose of AACSB Accreditation is to encourage leading business schools and accounting academic units that voluntarily hold themselves accountable for improving business and accounting practice through scholarly education and impactful intellectual contributions. AACSB achieves this purpose by defining a set of criteria and standards, coordinating peer review and consultation, and recognizing high-quality business schools and accounting academic units that meet the standards and participate in the process.
AACSB remains deeply committed to diversity in collegiate management and accounting education, recognizing that a wide variety of missions and strategies can lead to quality. One of the guiding principles of AACSB Accreditation is the acceptance, and even encouragement, of diverse paths to achieving high quality in management and accounting education. Accreditation decisions are derived through a process that relies on the professional judgment of peers who conduct reviews that are guided by the mission of the business school or accounting academic unit. It also is vitally important that AACSB Accreditation demands evidence of continuous quality improvement in three vital areas: innovation, engagement, and impact.
Innovation: Accreditation standards focus on the quality of education and supporting functions. The standards must set demanding but realistic thresholds, challenge business schools and accounting academic units to innovate, and they must inspire educators to pursue continuous improvement in educational programs and other mission-based activities of the business school and the accounting academic unit. Accreditation standards and associated processes should foster quality and consistency, but not at the expense of the creativity and experimentation necessary for innovation. Also, accreditation standards and processes should not impede experimentation or entrepreneurial pursuits; the standards must recognize that innovation involves both the potential for success and the risk of failure. Therefore, when assessing any success or failure, it is key to recognize the importance of experimentation and place a priority on strategic innovation. If innovations are well-developed, rational, and well-planned, negative outcomes should not inhibit a positive accreditation review. Negative outcomes are of concern only when they seriously and negatively affect the ability of the accounting academic unit to continue to fulfill its mission.
Engagement: AACSB acknowledges the diversity among its membership, but it also recognizes that all of its accredited members share a common purpose—the preparation of students for meaningful professional, societal, and personal lives. Effective business and accounting education and research can be achieved with different balances of academic and professional engagement. However, quality business and accounting education cannot be achieved when either academic or professional engagement is completely absent, or when they do not intersect in meaningful ways. Accreditation should encourage an appropriate intersection of academic and professional engagement that is consistent with quality in the context of the missions of the school and accounting academic unit. Accounting accreditation should also support professional interactions between accounting faculty, accounting students, and accounting practitioners. Such interactions, which should be designed to enhance the practice and theory of accounting and business, must be an important attribute of high-quality accounting academic units.
Impact: In an environment of increasing accountability, it is important that AACSB Accreditation focus on appropriate high-quality inputs (human, financial, physical, etc.) and the resulting outcomes produced by the efficient and effective deployment of those inputs within the context of the business school's and the accounting academic unit's mission and supporting strategies. That is, in the accreditation process, business schools and accounting academic units should document how they are making a difference and having impact. This means that AACSB will continue to emphasize that business schools and accounting academic units integrate assurance of learning into their curriculum management processes and produce intellectual contributions that make a positive impact on the theory, teaching, and practice of accounting, business, and management. Impact also has a broader meaning in that the business school and the accounting academic unit, through the articulation and execution of their missions, should make a difference in business and society as well as in the global community of accounting academic units, business schools, and management educators. Examples of how accounting academic units can assess and demonstrate impact are provided in the Appendix.
The primary relationship in the accreditation process is among AACSB, the business school, and the accounting academic unit under review. Although many individuals and groups have a stake in the AACSB-accreditation process, the association implements that process through a series of individual reviews of the business school and accounting academic unit. This approach provides a common reference point for quality and performance in management and accounting education for all AACSB members.
Having achieved AACSB Accreditation, an institution, business school, and accounting academic unit commit to a process of continuous improvement review to demonstrate alignment with the spirit and intent of these accreditation standards. That process also includes a commitment to complete the following:
- An annual report of data supporting AACSB's efforts to advance quality management education globally through its research and knowledge services functions; and
- A periodic five-year review of strategic progress.
In choosing to participate in the AACSB accreditation process, business school deans and directors, accounting academic unit leaders, and other school and institutional administrators are expected to submit data in a timely manner and to assure that all data and information provided in the accreditation review process are accurate to the best of their knowledge.
AACSB's initial accreditation process includes a review of the institution's or accounting academic unit's self-evaluation report and a visit by a peer review team. Because an institution's mission is integral to the accreditation process, peer review teams must exercise judgment regarding the reasonableness of deviations from applicable standards.
AACSB recognizes that high-quality management and accounting education is achieved around the world in different ways, which requires the association to adapt its approaches 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 and accounting education and scholarship wherever it occurs, but business schools and accounting academic units 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 interpretations of standards.
Supporting Accounting as a Learned Profession
Accounting professionals are playing increasingly critical roles in the collection, analysis, recording, reporting, interpretation, and verification of financial and non-financial information. Their work supports an ever increasing array of global economic activity and supplies global capital markets with reliable and timely information. Without such information, organizations cannot efficiently deploy capital to support innovation, entrepreneurial development, or advances in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As the industry continues to evolve, AACSB recognizes that the quality of accounting education has never been more important. Colleges must prepare accounting graduates to assume critical responsibilities, serve the public interest, support efficient capital markets, and promote effective managerial decision making. The association views its role in identifying and recognizing high-quality accounting education as an essential way to support and enhance accountancy's status as one of the "learned professions."2
Although accountancy offers graduates many career paths from which to choose, the profession as a whole shares common attributes with other learned professions such as law and medicine. These attributes include advanced, specialized higher education requirements for new accountants; a code of professional conduct and personal integrity; the expectation of continuing education to ensure accountants keep their skills relevant and current; strong partnerships between accounting professionals and the academic community to support education, research, and collaboration; certification and licensure regulations, laws, and policies; and the expectation that educational programs in accounting maintain ongoing quality assurance or accreditation status. Though the accounting profession does not have universal mandatory requirements that accounting graduates must meet as they complete their academic work through an AACSB-accredited accounting academic unit, it is appropriate that accounting academic units aspire to develop in their graduates' strong foundational skills, thorough and relevant knowledge, and a sense of integrity in the practice of accounting. It is in this spirit that AACSB's separate accounting accreditation process has evolved. The goal of AACSB accounting accreditation is to advance the practice of accounting as a learned profession, by recognizing outstanding accounting academic units that produce excellent graduates, impactful scholarship, and high-quality interactions between academia and professional practice.
1. The term business school is used to describe the entity that offers programs and is not meant to imply any particular organizational structure. Accounting academic unit is used to describe the entity that offers degree programs in accounting and is not meant to imply any particular organizational structure.
2. AACSB views the accounting profession broadly and does not limit its definition of the practice to designations such as a Certified Public Accountant, Chartered Accountant, etc.