Starting Points

How did AACSB’s founders envision their industry? What issues were the most controversial through the years? The conversations, concerns, and course corrections that contributed to the creation of AACSB’s accreditation standards.

IN 1900, TEXTBOOKS IN BUSINESS DISCIPLINES were scarce, advertising was taught in psychology departments, and the term “marketing” was not yet in common academic use. Only a few business schools existed, including the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania, opened in 1881, and schools at the University of California and the University of Chicago, both opened in 1898. At the time, business schools had not yet determined a common objective or format for business education.

In the years leading up to World War I, businesses grew more complex, and their leaders began pressing academia to pay more attention to business disciplines. Public interest in business education escalated—between Wharton’s founding in 1881 and the United States’ entrance into WWI in 1917, 30 new business schools were founded. Between 1917 and 1928, 46 more opened, until the Great Depression stalled the industry’s growth.

That was the historical backdrop of the first years of AACSB International. On June 16, 1916, representatives from 17 universities came to the University of Chicago to attend an invitation-only meeting convened by E.F. Gay, Leon C. Marshall, and A.E. Swanson—deans from Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern University, respectively. Those attending discussed forming an association of business schools that would focus on “the improvement of collegiate education for business,” which they called the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business. Fourteen schools became founding members, including Harvard, Chicago, Northwestern, Columbia, Dartmouth, New York, Ohio State, and Tulane universities, and the universities of California, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Texas, and Wisconsin. Colorado College, the University of Michigan, and the University of Cincinnati signed on later that same year. The founding deans knew that by aligning their programs, they could serve the needs of business more effectively than they could by going it alone. What follows are milestones in the evolution of AACSB, its accreditation standards, and the industry since the association’s 1916 beginnings.*

Click the image below to view the timeline of AACSB milestones over the last 100 years.


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*Adapted from The History of AACSB International, Volumes 1 and 2, published by AACSB International.