How AACSB Accreditation Encourages Experiential Learning

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Written by Jordan Levy

In July 2018, AACSB released an update to the accreditation st andards for business schools, which was originally published in 2013. AACSB, or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, was founded in 1916 and established the first st andards for business administration degrees in 1919. Since then, AACSB has adopted additional st andards for undergraduate and graduate business programs to address changing marketplace needs and account for the increasing globalization of business. Today, AACSB is recognized as one of the most prestigious st andards for business accreditation and serves as a source of innovation for business schools around the world.


Here’s an overview of how project-based experiential learning fits into the current AACSB accreditation st andards and how we feel CapSource can help by connecting business programs with real companies through different forms of hands-on educational collaborations.


The Importance of Experiential Learning in Business School Accreditation


In a recent video titled Change is Imminent–Innovation Must Follow, AACSB called upon business schools to equip students to solve problems and ignite change in the workforce by implementing innovative curriculum strategies rather than relying on the status quo. With never-ending disruptions from technology, as well as rapidly evolving industries and the need for new skills, business schools can no longer just employ traditional educational models, but must also seek industry partnerships to bridge the gap between academia and the workforce. This is where project-based experiential learning (PBEL) comes into play.


Business schools should already be offering PBEL if they aren’t already, and experiential learning is becoming increasingly more prevalent in accreditation st andards. The 2018 st andards update states that schools must “provide a portfolio of experiential learning opportunities for business students, through either formal coursework or extracurricular activities, which allow them to engage with faculty and active business leaders” and ensure these activities “provide exposure to business and management in both local and diverse global contexts.” To prove their commitment to developing students’ skills through PBEL, schools must submit to AACSB the curriculum approach as well as documentation showing student outcomes (presentations, papers, etc.) for experiential learning activities, such as consulting projects and field research.


Getting Started With Experiential Learning (or Exp anding an Existing Program)


Not all business schools have an established program for PBEL. If you are not sure how to get started with a PBEL program or how to scale your existing PBEL program, there are resources that can help. For example, learning engagements coordinated through CapSource cover many areas of consideration for accreditation and help facilitate projects between business students and real-world companies. CapSource can be used as a curricular or extracurricular form of experiential learning, through engagements like Live Business Cases or Capstone Projects, which can be developed as case competitions or in-class collaborations.


In addition, AACSB has a requirement that students engage directly in “active learning,” which are defined as student-led activities that foster real-world skills and the application of knowledge in practice. In active learning, students are required to interact with other students and faculty while learning. CapSource’s experiential learning engagement formats revolve around active learning and can count towards this requirement. Our collaborations are formatted as group projects, which can help teach students how to effectively collaborate on meaningful projects where stakeholders expect real outcomes.


For AACSB, schools are also required to include perspectives from stakeholders such as employers, which CapSource helps to facilitate. Finally, AACSB requires that experiential learning projects conclude with students submitting final deliverables such as presentations or papers, which helps them build a portfolio of evidence that they’re accomplishing learning goals. CapSource projects prioritize students’ creation of deliverables throughout the project process, emphasizing tangible student outcomes just as much as the learning process itself.


The Result: Developing Students with Career-Ready Skills


Of course, an experiential learning project is meant to provide more than a grade. Ultimately, students are expected to grow and earn credentials as young professionals so they can seamlessly transition from the classroom to the workplace. AACSB requires that at the bachelor’s degree level and higher, business curricula must enable students to develop professional skills in a variety of areas. CapSource programs help students develop in all three categories specified by AACSB:


  •    General Skills, which include written and oral communication, ethical understanding and reasoning, analytical thinking, interpersonal relations and teamwork, ability to work in diverse and multicultural professional environments, reflective thinking, application of business knowledge, and integration of real-world business experiences.
  •    General Business Knowledge, which includes the economic, political, legal, technological, and social contexts of organizations in a global society; social responsibility initiatives, such as sustainability, diversity, and business ethics; financial analysis, reporting, and markets; and organizational systems and processes, such as production/operations, supply chains, marketing, and distribution
  •    Technology Agility, which includes the use of technology, data, and statistics to make business decisions; understanding of data privacy and ethical use; understanding of how technology affects the workplace and society at large; willingness and ability to learn new technologies and adapt to rapid changes; and ability to use technology to analyze an unstructured problem, create a solution, and communicate that solution to stakeholders.


Master’s level degrees require an additional layer of skills that involve framing problems and developing creative solutions. Currently, most CapSource projects are done by master’s students, although we have begun to broaden our focus to include both undergraduate business and engineering programs as well.


Although projects are usually geared to better prepare students for the workplace, they can also be used to help business schools improve their own educational offerings. Per AACSB st andards, schools should generate specific Examples of Impact Metrics in Support Documentation, which can be used to assess the short-term and long-term effects of PBEL programs on students and the companies they work with. For example, through these PBEL engagements, business schools are getting direct input from business partners about employability of students, students’ ability to advance within an organization, and how students are positioned for future leadership roles as they gain more experience. With this information, business schools can further refine their experiential learning engagements and curriculum to more closely align with educational and workplace needs.


At a Global and Local Scale


AACSB accreditation st andards value PBEL at both the local and international scale. To further illustrate the importance of this global st andard, AACSB recently released another video featuring Dean Susan McTiernan at the Roger Williams University’s Gabelli School of Business, which runs the CAFE (Center for Advanced Financial Education) program. CAFE is a student-managed investor fund that gives aspiring traders the opportunity to practice investing and travel to other countries to speak with professional investors and other business schools about their research methodologies and investment strategies. The benefit of this program is its real-world approach to investing, which equips students with career-ready skills and introductions to real mentors while meeting others in the field. As AACSB notes in the video, the study abroad dimension is part of what sets this program apart and deepens student understanding of trading and global markets.


The notion of global context can be accomplished through formalized partnerships with international professionals like with CAFE or through projects with international companies, which CapSource can facilitate. Experiential learning projects can also be done within local communities, which fulfills the Practice and Community Impact requirement of AACSB accreditation. CapSource often partners business school students with local startups and nonprofits, which helps the school take a more active role in their community and the students gain a deeper exposure to the inner workings of an entire organization rather than a single department.


Furthering a Collective Vision for Business Education


In addition to the accreditation st andards established by AACSB, they have offered a “Collective Vision for Business Education.” Within this vision, AACSB lists five key opportunities for business schools to extend their societal impact and take on a larger role in forming the business leaders of tomorrow. CapSource learning experiences align with three of these opportunities:


  •       Co-Creation – Our experiential learning engagements cover multi-disciplinary problems, intersection of industry and practice, and creation of results and outcomes to make business school students partners in knowledge creation.
  •       Hubs of Lifelong Learning – These learning experiences are relevant for students at an undergrad, grad, or even professional / continuing education level.
  •       Leaders on Leadership – These projects allow students to engage directly with business leaders and take leadership roles on their own teams.


The Future of AACSB Accreditation


Announced in August of 2018, AACSB has assembled a Business Accreditation Task Force (BATF) designated to help the organization re-imagine the business school accreditation process. According to AACSB, “We are in the midst of a transformational era as technology continues to radically change the way instruction is delivered, new instructional models continue to emerge, and the market dem ands that business school education be more connected to industry.”


Both AACSB and CapSource understand the value of the intersection of academia and practice such that students can emerge from their programs prepared to assume the role of the next generation of business leaders, ready to enter a global, constantly-changing, competitive economic environment. We hope the new task force provides clear emphasis on the importance of PBEL as a way to connect business education to industry. The more experience students can gain in problem-solving, working with diverse stakeholders, and applying theory to practice, the more prepared they will ultimately be upon graduation.

If you are interested in learning more about the engagement formats used by CapSource to connect real companies with higher-ed through project-based experiential learning, we encourage you to take a look at the experiential learning page on our website. If you’re ready to start your own PBEL engagement or want to learn more about how to exp and or refine your current approach, please contact us at [email protected].