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AACSB introduced the concept of “outcomes assessment” in its 1991 standards as a requirement for accredited institutions. At that time, the standards allowed significant flexibility in assessment processes including relying on indirect assessment measures, surveys of alumni, graduating students, employers, and other similar forms of feedback. In 2003, AACSB standards were changed to reflect the maturity of the “outcomes assessment” movement and need for improved accountability measures. The 2003 standards place emphasis on direct assessments of student learning. In mandating direct assessment, AACSB expects accredited institutions to formulate specific learning goals and conduct appropriate direct assessments of learning for purposes of improving curricula when deficiencies or opportunities for improvement are found.

The AOL standards support two principles which are the foundation of AACSB accreditation, accountability and continuous improvement. In terms of accountability, “ … Measures of learning can assure external constituents such as potential students, trustees, public officials, supporters, and accreditors, that the organization meets its goals” (AACSB 2007, p.60). In terms of continuous improvement, “ … By measuring learning the school can evaluate its students’ success at achieving learning goals, can use the measures to plan improvement efforts, and (depending on the type of measures) can provide feedback and guidance for individual students” (AACSB 2007, p.60).

Palomba and Banta (1999) define the outcomes assessment process as: The systematic collection, review, and use of information about educational programs undertaken for the purpose of improving student learning and development (Palomba and Banta, 1999).

The outcomes assessment process should include:

  • 1. Definition of student learning goals and objectives
  • 2. Alignment of curricula with the adopted goals
  • 3. Identification of instruments and measures to assess learning
  • 4. Collection, analyzing, and dissemination of assessment information
  • 5. Using assessment information for continuous improvement including documentation that the assessment process is being carried out in a systematic, ongoing basis. (AACSB Assessment Resource Center, 2007)

Another form of the above steps can be stated as:

  • 1. What will our students learn in our program? What are our expectations?
  • 2. How will they learn it?
  • 3. How will we know they have learned it or not?
  • 4. What will we do if they have not learned it?

The remainder of the paper will review AACSB standards, the fundamentals of outcomes assessment program, and the appendix addresses a series of “Frequently Asked Questions” related to the AOL standards and outcomes assessment practices.

AACSB AOL Standards

Standards 15, 16, 18, 19 and 21 deal with the requirements to establish learning goals in terms of required knowledge and skills for programs at different levels.
Curricula content guidelines also are provided in the AOL standards, but are not addressed in this paper.

AACSB Standard 15 (Management of Curricula) states:
The school uses a well documented, systematic process to develop, monitor, evaluate and revise the substance and delivery of the curricula of degree programs and to assess the impact of the curricula on learning.

Standard 16 (Bachelor’s or undergraduate level degree: Knowledge and skills) states:
…Adapting expectations to the school’s mission and cultural circumstances, the school specifies learning goals and demonstrates achievement of learning goals for key general, management-specific, and/or appropriate discipline-specific knowledge and skills that its students achieve in each undergraduate degree program.

Standard 18 (Master’s level degree in general management (e.g., MBA) programs: Knowledge and skills) states:
…Adapting expectations to the school’s mission and cultural circumstances, the school specifies learning goals and demonstrates master’s level achievement of learning goals for key management-specific knowledge and skills in each master’s level general management program.

Standard 19 (Master’s level degree in specialized programs: Knowledge and skills) states:
…Adapting expectations to the school’s mission and cultural circumstances, the school specifies learning goals and demonstrates achievement of learning goals in each specialized master’s degree program.

The spirit and intent of Standards 15, 16, 18 and 19 also apply to doctoral programs which are addressed in Standard 21 which outlines broad learning goals for such programs.


The following section provides responses to frequently asked questions regarding AACSB AOL standards and outcomes assessment processes.

What are AACSB expectations regarding the implementation of an AOL program?
The current AACSB standards were adopted in April 2003 and a transition period was outlined allowing schools time to design and implement an AOL program. In 2007, the standards stated that schools should have a complete AOL process in place, including feedback of assessment data into the curricula review process. In 2007, the original transition timeline was removed from the standards document and new language inserted to state that schools should be demonstrating a high degree of maturity for AOL processes. For peer review visits in 2007-08 and beyond, the impact of assessment outcomes on curricula should be evident

Must all students be assessed?
Assessment data collected from valid statistical samples of student work is acceptable to support conclusions about learning outcomes and identification of areas for improvement. Sample characteristics should be established to provide a high degree of confidence that the data are representative, valid, and reliable.

Can assessment take place outside of the business school?
Yes, but the learning goals that are being assessed should be relevant for business and accounting students and established (agreed upon) by the faculty.

What is the minimum performance standard?
AACSB has no such absolute standard. The goal or benchmark for overall student performance on any given learning goal should be determined by each school consistent with its mission, degree programs, and student profile. This performance level provides a basis to determine if the collective student performance on any given learning goal is acceptable or unacceptable. If performance is unacceptable, curricula change should follow to address the problem.

Must all graduates meet the expected standard on all learning goals?
No, but the learning goals do represent the intentions of the faculty for every student. If students are not achieving the learning goals at acceptable levels, action must be taken to strengthen the curriculum for future students.

Can a faculty member be responsible for the assessment of a learning goal within his/her class?
While in practice many schools choose to incorporate outside assessors in their course-embedded assessments, it is possible to have the class professor perform this function. For this to occur, however, the learning goal, operational objective, and supporting rubrics for evaluating performance must be used consistently and follow the collective decisions of the faculty as a whole regarding what constitutes acceptable student performance.

Must learning goals be measured separately?
Each learning goal should have its own performance standard, but a common method or activity can be used to gather data on more than one learning goal. For example, a case analysis may be useful for assessing analytical thinking as well as writing skills or a presentation may be used for evaluating oral communication skills and business disciplinary competence.

Is benchmarking against other institutions required?
AACSB standards do not require inter-institutional benchmarking for student outcomes. Learning goals are unique to each institution though many institutions may have some common goals (e.g. communication skills).

Should student learning be assessed at multiple points in the curriculum?
The standards do not require multiple assessments at different points in a curriculum. Pre-test and post-test observations may be valuable and can be used, but AACSB standards do not require this.

If specific students do not perform well on assessments, is remediation required?
Outcomes assessment processes are designed to identify areas for program improvement. Remediation is not required for individual students; however, if assessment data indicate a serious deficiency across a large number of students, an intervention may be desirable, but it is not required. These results, however, should be factored into the assessment process, and action is expected for future students.

Can the collective work of student teams be used for assessment?
Collective work from a student team does not provide a basis to assess individual student performance and outcomes except where teamwork is a learning goal. In that case the collective work of the team may provide a basis for assessing performance as a team member.

How many learning goals are needed?
AACSB expects schools to specify 4-10 learning goals for each degree program. There is no limit, but this is the guidance in order to keep the assessment program manageable.

Must all learning goals be assessed each year?
AACSB standards specify “a systematic process” only. Each goal does not have to be assessed every year, but a systematic process is needed to insure all goals are assessed to support meaningful curricula change and development. Normally, each goal should be evaluated at least twice over a five-year AACSB review cycle.

What documentation must be maintained?
Schools should maintain copies of instruments, course-embedded assignments, scoring grids or rubrics, summary of data and analyses, samples of student products used, documentation that the data was used, and documentation of the curricula actions that were taken based on assessment results.

What other factors can affect curricula development/improvements?
The implementation of an AOL process for evaluating student learning is a key component of the curricula development process in any business school or accounting program. At the same time, there are other factors that may also dictate curricula change including external, environmental factors that could affect major curricula change, the development of new programs, etc. Such factors should not be ignored and when curricula change is affected by external factors, such events should be documented.

What are the most popular learning goals adopted by AACSB accredited business schools?
Based on surveys conducted by Dr. Kathryn Martel of Montclair State University, the most popular business-related learning goals are: effective communication skills, ethics, Knowledge of all business disciplines, critical thinking, effective decision making, problem solving ability, ability to integrate across business disciplines, global perspective, team skills, and competency in the major.

Contact : Lee, Ji Eun ( jelee@kaist.ac.kr )