Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Peers, Aspirants and Competitors: Developing a Set of Comparison Schools for AACSB Accreditation Reviews

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Peers, Aspirants and Competitors: Developing a Set of Comparison Schools for AACSB Accreditation Reviews

Article excerpt


Business school accreditation by AACSB International has long been considered a gold standard that is coveted by high quality business schools around the world. Currently there are over 700 entities from 48 countries that claim business accreditation from the AACSB (AACSB Member List). While there are other significant business school accreditations, such as EQUIS or AMBA, AACSB accreditation is the oldest and most diverse.

In preparing for AACSB accreditation/reaccreditation, business schools are required to identify and submit to AACSB a list of a school's peer, aspirant, and competitor (PAC) schools. While seemingly innocuous, the PAC list is an important component of the accreditation/reaccreditation process and, in particular, it can play a crucial role in framing perceptions for members of the review team responsible for evaluating a school's bid for accreditation/reaccreditation.

In general, accreditation for any institution of higher education is a process governed by established standards, self-study reports, and peer review. A key to the process is peer review. A team of peer reviewers is expected to have similar challenges, operations, expectations, and programs at their schools in order to better relate to those characteristics of the school undergoing review. Without a common context, a peer review team member may have difficulty understanding and assessing the environment of the school under review.

It is in this context that the PAC list becomes an important tool for both the school seeking accreditation/reaccreditation as well as the review team charged with evaluation of the applicant school. For example, what if a peer review team (PRT) member is surprised to discover that his/her school is regarded as a "peer" school, when that PRT member clearly perceives his/her school to be an aspirant school? Subsequent judgments may be clouded and unintentional bias may occur.

Avoiding such situations can be difficult. The AACSB does not define or select peers for any school. Thus, it is the school's responsibility to inform the AACSB of schools that it considers peer institutions. What constitutes the definition of a peer school and how such schools should be identified are two of the issues addressed in this paper.

Each school preparing for an AACBS visit must also identify a group of aspirant schools. This is often a curious list. What business school wouldn't aspire to be as successful or famous as Harvard, Stanford, the London Business School or INSEAD? But is it realistic for all but the elite business schools to consider those schools as aspirant schools? While a rational person may answer "no," it might be just as rational to others to say "yes," because such schools are the ones to be emulated. In this paper, we propose a dichotomous definition of aspirant school that seeks to provide for a realistic determination of one's aspirants.

To help minimize reviewer biasedness, the AACSB recognizes that competitor schools present a conflict of interest if a review team member is assigned from such a school. So, in addition to declaring its comparable peers and aspirants, the school must define its competitor group. What constitutes a competitor school?

Finally, the AACSB also specifies minimum numbers of schools that must be identified. For peers, the minimum is six comparison schools. For aspirants, a minimum of three schools is needed, and for competitors, there is no limit. Perhaps confounding the necessary classification process is that the AACSB proscribes the possibility that the PAC list may not be mutually exclusive. Specifically, the AACSB acknowledges (AACSB Handbook: 5) that "a business school may be chosen in all three groups, as a peer, competitor, and aspirant based upon the particulars of the business school and programs offered."

In what follows, we begin with indicating the importance of the PAC list. …

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