Home Contents


Administration Assessment Close the Loop Criteria Follow-Up Outcomes Resources Rubrics UG Majors

AACSB Criteria
SACS Criteria

The mission of AACSB International is to advance quality management education worldwide
through accreditation and thought leadership.


This interpretive information for the Assurance of Learning standards is organized differently from the earlier standards. Rather than material accompanying each standard, the interpretive information is placed at the beginning of this section, and then the standards are listed along with their respective “Basis for Judgment” and “Guidance for Documentation.”

Student learning is the central activity of higher education. Definition of learning expectations and assurance that graduates achieve learning expectations are key features of any academic program. The learning expectations derive from a balance of internal and external contributions to the definition of educational goals. Members of the business community, students, and faculty members each contribute valuable perspectives on the needs of graduates. Learning goals should be set and revised at a level that encourages continuous improvement in educational programs.

Schools use a variety of structures and approaches to provide learning experiences for students. Programs exist at a variety of academic levels and for a variety of purposes. The following general definitions describe learning expectations at three traditional degree levels.

Undergraduate degree programs (bachelor’s level) in business educate students in a broad range of knowledge and skills as a basis for careers in business. Learning expectations build on the students' pre-collegiate educations to prepare students to enter and sustain careers in the business world and to contribute positively in the larger society. Students achieve knowledge and skills for successful performance in a complex environment requiring intellectual ability to organize work, make and communicate sound decisions, and react successfully to unanticipated events. Students develop learning abilities suitable to continue higher-level intellectual development.

Master’s level degree programs educate students at a professional level that includes both the accumulation of knowledge and abilities for participation in the business world and an understanding of how to evaluate knowledge claims in their area of focus.

  • General programs (e.g., Master of Business Administration--MBA) prepare students with a general managerial perspective and aptitude.

Specialized master’s programs (e.g., Master of Accounting, Master of Marketing, Master of Finance) prepare students for roles in particular areas of business, management, and other organization-related professions.

Doctoral level programs educate students for highly specialized careers in academe or practice. Graduates of doctoral programs have sufficient understanding to participate in knowledge creation in their fields of study.

The aspirations of individual schools may create circumstances unforeseen in these more general statements. It is the responsibility of the Peer Review Team and the Initial Accreditation Committee or Maintenance of Accreditation Committee to judge the reasonableness of any deviations from interpretations of the standards.

Intent of Assurance of Learning Standards

Assurance of Learning Standards evaluate how well the school accomplishes the educational aims at the core of its activities. The learning process is separate from the demonstration that students achieve learning goals. Do students achieve learning appropriate to the programs in which they participate? Do they have the knowledge and skills appropriate to their earned

degrees? Because of differences in mission, student population, employer population, and other circumstances, the program learning goals will differ from school to school. Every school should enunciate and measure its educational goals. Few characteristics of the school will be as important to stakeholders as knowing the accomplishment levels of the school's students when compared against the school's learning goals.

Assurance of learning to demonstrate accountability (such as in accreditation) is an important reason to assess learning accomplishments. Measures of learning can assure external constituents such as potential students, trustees, public officials, supporters, and accreditors, that the organization meets its goals.

Another important function for measures of learning is to assist the school and faculty members to improve programs and courses. 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. 


(STANDARDS 16, 18, 19, and 21)

As an initial and critical step in its demonstration of learning, the school must develop a list of the learning goals for which it will demonstrate assurance of learning. This list of learning goals derives from, or is consonant with, the school's mission. The mission and objectives set out the intentions of the school, and the learning goals say how the degree programs demonstrate the mission. That is, the learning goals describe the desired educational accomplishments of the degree programs. The learning goals translate the more general statement of the mission into the educational accomplishments of graduates.

Standards that Relate to Learning Goals

Four of the standards in the Assurance of Learning portion of the standards relate directly to the setting and achievement of learning goals. Those are standards 16, 18, 19, and 21.

Resources that will be useful for persons setting learning goals and assessing student achievement are:

a.      Banta, T.W., Lund, J.P., Black, K.E. & Oblinger, F.W. (Eds.). Assessment in Practice: Putting Principles to Work on College Campuses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.

b.      Mentkowski, M. & Associates. Learning that Lasts: Integrating Learning, Development, and  Performance in College and Beyond. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.

c.      Palomba, C.A. & Banta, T.W. Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing, and Improving  Assessment in Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

d.      Palomba, C.A. & Banta, T.W. Assessing Student Competence in Accredited Disciplines: Pioneering Approaches to Assessment in Higher Education. Sterling, Va.: Stylus Publishing, 2001.

e. Schneider, C.G. & Shoenberg, R. Contemporary Understandings of Liberal Education. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 1998.


Reviewers will expect schools to explicitly identify the goals and the demonstrations of achievement for each of these standards. For standard 21 the bulleted statements in the standard represent the normal learning goals for doctoral programs. Schools need only specify doctoral learning goals for programs where they differ from those listed in the standard.

Intent of Learning Goals

Learning goals serve two purposes. First, learning goals convey to participants, faculty and students, the educational outcomes toward which they are working. This helps in setting priorities and emphasis, designing learning experiences, and fulfilling educational expectations. While the learning goals cannot be exhaustively stated for any higher education program, it is possible to set educational targets and to assure that the learning is progressing in the specified direction. Second, educational goals assist potential students to choose programs that fit their personal career goals. Only with an accurate understanding of the learning goals will a potential student be able to make an informed choice about whether to join the program.

What is a Program? The school must specify learning goals for each separate degree program. Generally, such goals are anticipated for each degree program, not for separate majors or concentrations within a degree. Curricula content will determine if one set of learning goals or different sets of learning goals will be required for separate degree programs. For example, regardless of the degree title, if an undergraduate business program has a common framework for general knowledge and skills areas and management-specific knowledge and skills areas as the foundation for a major, concentration, or emphasis area, one set of leaning goals may be defined for all degree programs with this format and goals for each major, concentration, or emphasis area (while they may, or may not, be developed for the school’s use) would not be required for accreditation review purposes. If there are major differences in the curricula content in terms of general knowledge and skills areas that support a major, concentration, or emphasis area, specification of differentiated learning goals for each degree program would be expected though some learning goals could be the same across the different degree programs.

A school may offer substantially the same MBA degree to full-time day students and to part-time students in evening classes. The school might decide that the goals of the program are the same in both delivery modes, and thus, one set of goals would be provided. Alternatively, the school could determine that the two programs should have distinct learning goals. An Executive MBA program would require a separate set of goals to denote its differences from other programs.

Each specialized masters program would require a unique set of learning goals though a subset may be common to multiple programs. Doctoral programs should have appropriate learning goals reflecting the content of the program and emphasis or concentration area.

Differences among Schools

 Because of differences in mission, faculty expectations, student body composition, and other factors, schools vary greatly in how they express their learning goals. Definition of the learning goals is a key element in how the school defines itself. Thus, care should be exercised in establishing goals and in the regular review and revision of the learning goals and measurement of their accomplishment.

Even if schools choose similar domains of learning goals, they are likely to develop the goals in different ways. There is no intention in the AACSB accreditation process that schools should have the same definitions of learning goals, or that they should assess accomplishment of learning goals in the same way. To the contrary, the standards expect faculty members of each school to determine the proper definitions and measurements for their situation.

Goals at the Program Level

Learning goals can be established at different levels in the educational process. At the course or single-topic level, faculty members normally have very detailed learning goals. These standards do not focus on such detailed learning goals.

AACSB accreditation is directed at program-level learning goals of a more general nature. These goals will state the broad educational expectations for each degree program. These goals specify the intellectual and behavioral competencies a program is intended to instill. In defining these goals, the faculty members clarify how they intend for graduates to be different as a result of their completion of the program. By developing operational definitions of the goals and assessing student performance, the school measures its level of success at accomplishing the goals. Normally, four to ten learning goals will be specified for each degree program.

General and Management-Specific Goals

The core learning goals for business programs will likely include two separate kinds of learning. First, there will be goals for the general knowledge and skills acquired by students. The general knowledge and skills goals, while not management specific, relate to knowledge and abilities that graduates will carry with them into their careers. Such learning areas as communications abilities, problem-solving abilities, ethical reasoning skills, and language abilities are the types of general knowledge and abilities that schools might define as a part of these goals.

Second, there will be management-specific learning goals for students. These goals relate to expectations for learning accomplishment in areas that directly relate to management tasks and form the business portion of degree requirements. Such areas include traditional learning disciplines such as accounting, management science, marketing, human resources, and operations management, and, depending on how the school defines its mission, might include such management-specific but non-traditional areas as corporate anthropology, change management, or others. In developing learning goals, the school should give careful attention to both the general and the management-specific learning goals.

Faculty Responsibility for Learning Goals

The faculty in aggregate (either in total, in representative units, in disciplinary units, or through some other organizational structure) will normally be the persons responsible for listing and defining the school's learning goals. Different schools have developed different structures and procedures for creating learning goals; deep involvement of faculty members in the process is a critical feature of whatever mechanisms the school uses. Agreement on learning goals for academic programs is one of the central defining features of higher education, and thus, faculty involvement/ownership is a necessary ingredient.

 After setting the learning goals, the faculty must decide where the goals will be addressed within degree curricula. What coursework or learning experiences provided by the academic pursuit of degrees will help students to achieve the goals? Goals may be course specific, or they may be spread throughout the curriculum, or both. For example, a learning goal stated as "ability to express complex business matters in writing" may be a part of a business communications course, and it also may be addressed in required writing projects in additional courses.

Once faculty members have decided which components of the curriculum will contain certain learning goals, they must establish monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the proper learning experiences occur. Course syllabi, examinations, and projects should be regularly reviewed to see that learning experiences are included to prepare students to accomplish the intended learning goals. While this monitoring activity does not require elaborate processes, it must be regular, systematic, and sustained.

Beyond choosing and developing the list of learning goals, faculty members must operationalize the learning goals by specifying or developing the measurements that assess learning achievement on the learning goals. Obviously, operationalization of the learning goals is the ultimate step in the definition process. No matter how carefully the goals have been determined, making them operational through actual measurements is the definition. While the school may engage the assistance of strategic consultants in the creation of the list of goals or measurement consultants in the operationalization of goals, faculty members cannot abnegate their own responsibility for final definitions of goals and measurements.

Standards 18 and 19 include language intended to set the intellectual capacities of master’s level learning. This language suggests how graduates will be able to use their knowledge and skills. It is not intended to specify learning goals for master’s degree programs. The specific language at issue is:

In Standard 18:

“The capacities developed through the knowledge and skills of a general master’s level program are:

  • Capacity to lead in organizational situations.

  • Capacity to apply knowledge in new and unfamiliar circumstances through a conceptual understanding of relevant disciplines.

  • Capacity to adapt and innovate to solve problems, to cope with unforeseen events, and to manage in unpredictable environments.”

In Standard 19:

“The level of knowledge represented by the students of a specialized master’s level program is the:

  • Application of knowledge even in new and unfamiliar circumstances through a conceptual understanding of the specialization.

  • Ability to adapt and innovate to solve problems.

  • Capacity to critically analyze and question knowledge claims in the specialized discipline.”

 While schools may wish to include some of these concepts in their learning goals for specific programs, there is no requirement to do so. The learning goals developed by each institution should fit the mission of that institution and the particular degree program.

Using External Guidance

The faculty has the responsibility for setting the learning goals for degrees. However, they need not, indeed they should not, operate in an isolated fashion on a task so critical to success of the school in meeting its mission. External constituencies can inject expertise and perspectives into the process that will be unavailable if the faculty operates alone.

For business degrees, the business community provides valuable information about critical skills and knowledge for graduates. Major employers of graduates and corporate advisory groups give information about the situations most often faced by graduates and view the learning goals of the school from the perspective of persons who must put knowledge into practice on a daily basis. They also may provide insight into trends and anticipated demands on graduates, thus assisting in curricular revision toward future needs.

University expertise outside of the business school can also be a valuable resource. Faculty in language and area studies, communications, social sciences, law, information technology, and other disciplines can share information about the latest research of their disciplines, how it is best taught, and how business graduates may utilize it.

Students and recent graduates of degree programs can provide their insights into strengths and weaknesses of the educational experience provided by the business degree programs. Faculty may incorporate those ideas into the work of shaping the set of learning goals.

The definition of learning goals must be developed at each member institution to fit the characteristics, circumstances, and mission of the institution and its business degree programs. The definition of learning goals is the first step toward the development of a program of assurance of learning. This first step answers the question, "Assurance of learning of what?" Once this first step has been completed, the faculty can begin its work on the final question of an assurance of learning program, "How do we demonstrate that we are accomplishing our learning goals?" The following discussion provides suggestions for demonstrating learning accomplishment.

Demonstrating Learning Achievement

The school must demonstrate what learning occurs for each of the learning goals the school identifies as appropriate for its programs. This discussion focuses on approaches schools can use to assure that students achieve learning expectations. By no means does this imply that these approaches exhaust the ways schools can demonstrate that learning goals are met. This presentation of different approaches is meant to declare that no single approach to assurance of learning is required. Schools are encouraged to choose, create, and innovate learning measures that fit with the goals of the degree programs, pedagogies in use, and the schools' circumstances.

Approaches to Assurance of Learning:


1. Selection: Schools may select students into a program on the basis of knowledge or skills expected in graduates of a degree program.

Some examples of assurance by selection might include:

·      A school might insist that all of its MBA graduates have second-language ability. Rather than providing second-language training, the school might admit only students who can demonstrate second-language ability on a specified exam. Though the school does not provide this learning, they use the exam to assure (at entrance to the program) that all of the graduates have the specified ability.

·      A program may select students on the basis of their having achieved certain levels of written communications skills as demonstrated in materials submitted during the school's application process. An assessment of the required skills would be a routine part of the admission decision process. The school might provide skill-building opportunities for applicants who do not register sufficiently high in the selection process, and such students would have a later opportunity to show that they meet the school's expectations.

·      A school may attract a large proportion of students to its master’s level program who have engineering degrees or other backgrounds with high levels of quantitative training. While the degree program may have curricular opportunities for students to develop statistical reasoning skills, many applicants may demonstrate such skills in a placement exam during the application process. For this school, assurance of learning on its statistical reasoning learning goal may be demonstrable through performance on the placement exam at admission or alternatively, through another assurance technique for those students who take the required statistics courses.

·      Schools in countries where thirteen years of pre-collegiate education is the norm may be able to select students who already meet general knowledge and skills learning goals relating to historical and cultural understanding.

In the accreditation review process, schools will be expected to demonstrate that the selection process ensures that students have accomplished the learning goals when they use selection as the assurance method.

2. Course-embedded measurement: Required courses may expose students to systematic learning experiences designed to produce graduates with the particular knowledge or abilities specified in the school's learning goals. In such cases, the school can establish assessments within the required courses for those learning goals. Some examples of course-embedded measurement might be:

·      A school that has a written communication learning goal might specify that a particular course will have required writing exercises in it. Such exercises could serve the assessment needs of the course and also provide the school with assurance that students meet the learning goal in written communication. The course-embedded measurements must be constructed to demonstrate whether students achieve the school’s learning goals, and the measurements must be a mandated part of that course.

·      A school with learning goals that require students to integrate knowledge across business functional areas or to incorporate ethical considerations into decision-making, may embed the measurement of accomplishment on those goals into a capstone business-strategy course. In addition to the information provided for course assessment by the projects that measure learning on these topics, the assessments provide the school with the assurance measures needed to ascertain whether the school's learning goals are being met.

In the accreditation review process, reviewers will expect schools to have examples of student work available for inspection at the on-site review when they use course-embedded measurement to assure that students accomplish learning goals. Schools should present examples of student performance on tests or in course project work. The school should show how information from these measurements informs the school’s management of the educational process. Schools should describe the processes they use to see that the information from the course-embedded measurements inform the schools' management processes and lead to improvement efforts.

3. Demonstration through stand-alone testing or performance: Students may be required to demonstrate certain knowledge or skills as a requirement for graduation or at some other specific point in their degree programs.

Examples of demonstration through performance often take the form of special assessments:

·      At the end of a degree program students may be asked to demonstrate knowledge and ability through testing in specific content areas such as foreign language ability, critical thinking ability, or specific content knowledge. Specific content knowledge tests may represent learning goals for disciplines.

·      A special examination required of all students to qualify for the final year of the program might require a demonstration of composition skills in written communications.

·      A thesis or senior project might be required to demonstrate students' ability to integrate knowledge across different disciplines.


Example 1

School A has defined a learning goal in ethical reasoning for each of its four undergraduate majors. Student achievement on this goal is relevant to demonstrating satisfaction of Standard 16. The school’s faculty has defined the goal:

Learning Goal

“Each student can recognize and analyze ethical problems and choose and defend resolutions for practical situations that occur in accounting, human resource management, and marketing.”

Demonstration of Achievement

The school uses course-embedded exercises in three required introductory-level courses. Faculty in the three disciplines have developed different methods for instructing and assessing achievement toward this learning goal.

In accounting, a two-week module near the end of the introductory course is devoted to “Ethical standards and fraud in accounting.” A topic outline has been developed by faculty members to structure an exam on the materials of this module, and a standard set of expectations has been created for grading the exam. In addition to this exam’s contribution to the course grade, it provides a pass/fail indication on the learning goal.

In human resource management, students must provide four written analyses of problem situations during the course. On three of these analyses (on the topics of selection, reward systems, and job design), students are asked to respond to ethical issues. A standard scoring key on the ethical component provides evaluation toward the course grade and a pass/fail indication on the learning goal.

In marketing, each student must compose a term paper analyzing a current national or international marketing campaign. The analysis must include a specified set of components, and ethical issues that have been presented in lectures are among the required components. In addition to the overall grade of the paper, each student receives a pass/fail indicator on the ethics component.

In addition to reporting course grades, each instructor of these three courses provides a checklist of all of those students who successfully completed the ethics expectation. This information is a part of each student’s record and all three parts of the learning goal must be achieved before graduation. Students who fail the ethics evaluation while passing the course repeat the evaluation exercise or ethics module until they are successful.

Example 2

School B has a communications learning goal that is a part of its expectations for all undergraduate degrees. Student achievement on this goal is relevant to demonstrating satisfaction of Standard 16. The school’s faculty has defined the goal:

 Learning Goal

“Each student can conceptualize a complex issue into a coherent written statement and oral presentation.”

Demonstration of Achievement

The school uses course-embedded exercises to demonstrate achievement of this learning goal. The Strategic Management course required of each student in the final year of the program includes among its course evaluations a written analysis of a multi-functional case study and an oral presentation on an industry-wide analysis. A faculty task force has developed a standardized scoring key for use with these two exercises. Using dimensions agreed to by the faculty, each student’s performance on these exercises is evaluated. Students must repeat the exercises until they have satisfactorily accomplished minimum levels of performance.

Example 3

School C has a language requirement for the M.S. in International Business degree. Student achievement on this goal is relevant to demonstrating satisfaction of Standard 19 for students in the MSIB program. The school’s faculty has defined the goal:

Learning Goal

“Each student shall be able to converse and to write at an acceptable level for business communications in three languages one of which shall be English.”

Demonstration of Achievement

Specific stand-alone examinations are used to measure performance on this learning goal. Each student must pass the conversation-level exam in two languages other than his or her native language. If English is not the native language, it must be one of the examined languages. The language department of the institution administers a program of standardized exams consisting of both oral and written components. Students may take the exams at any time during their enrollment in the MSIB program. No student is eligible for graduation until the language requirement is met.

Example 4

School D has defined a learning goal for all students in general management master’s programs (MBA, EMBA, Master’s of Project Management) related to the understanding of organizational financial resources. Student achievement on this goal is relevant to demonstrating satisfaction of Standard 18. The school’s faculty has defined the goal:

Learning Goal

“Each student shall be able to evaluate the financial position of organizations through examination of balance sheets, cash flow statements, and budgets.”

Demonstration of Achievement

The school uses a course-embedded examination to assess performance on this learning goal. The final examination in the required Financial Accounting course includes a section specifically aimed at assessment of this goal at a level that has been determined by the accounting faculty. A student’s performance on this section must satisfy the minimal level, or it must be retaken until it is passed. Students for whom the Financial Accounting course is waived by virtue of undergraduate accounting coursework, must satisfactorily pass an equivalent examination.

Example 5

School E has defined a learning goal pertaining to all master’s level degree programs. The goal relates to teamwork skills and, it is relevant to demonstrating satisfaction of Standards 18 and 19. The school’s faculty has defined the goal:

Learning Goal

“Each student must understand and be able to use team building and collaborative behaviors in the accomplishment of group tasks.”

Demonstration of Achievement

A course-embedded exercise is used to assess performance on this learning goal. The required Organizational Behavior course has an extensive assessment-center module which trains all students as assessment center evaluators on team-behavior dimensions, and all students are rated for team skills in a series of group experiences. Performance as both rater and team member is combined into an evaluation on the learning goal.

Indirect Measures of Learning

As part of a comprehensive learning assessment program, schools may supplement direct measures of achievement with indirect measures. Such techniques as surveying alumni about their preparedness to enter the job market or surveying employers about the strengths and weaknesses of graduates can provide some information about perceptions of student achievement. Such indirect measures, however, cannot replace direct assessment of student performance. Often, schools find that alumni and employer surveys serve better as tools to gather knowledge about what is needed in the current workplace than as measures of student achievement. Such surveys can alert the school to trends, validate other sources of curriculum guidance, and maintain external relationships. By themselves, surveys are weak evidence for learning.

Use of Achievement Measures

Measures of learning have little value in and of themselves. They should make a difference in the operations of the school. Schools should show how results impact the life of the school. Such demonstration can include uses to inform and motivate individual students and uses to generate changes in curricula, pedagogy, and teaching and learning materials.

Implementation of Assurance of Learning Processes

The development of systematic meaningful assurance of learning processes with fully developed learning goals and outcomes assessment processes is normally a multi-year project. These standards were originally adopted in April 2003. For 2007 and beyond, schools should be demonstrating a high degree of maturity in terms of delineation of clear learning goals, implementation of outcome assessment processes, and demonstrated use of assessment information to improve curricula. This expectation applies to schools entering the initial accreditation process as well as those that are in the maintenance of accreditation stage. For schools with visit years in 2007-08 and beyond, the impact of assessment outcomes on continuing development of degree programs should be evident.



Assessment - Fogelman College of Business and Economics - The University of Memphis