Students' Ethical Decision Making: Are We Assessing What We Think We are Assessing?

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Byrne, Paul
Washburn University. School of Business
Kaw Valley Bank
Issue Date
February 2020
Alternative Title
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business' (AACSB) accreditation standards specify that all business programs must include learning experiences that address ethical understanding and reasoning. Coupled with AACSB's and other accrediting bodies' emphasis on assessment of leaming outcomes, universities have looked to assess their students' ethical reasoning in a standard and efficient manner. However, assessing students' propensity to engage in ethical decision-making is not as straight forward as assessing other skills. Ethical theories students' are expected to adhere to can vary and are inherently normative. Furthermore, theories are often at odds when suggesting an appropriate course of action, or require a subjective weighting of stakeholder importance. In addition, it is unclear if assessments are measuring how students would behave in the real world or students' perception of how their instructors expect them to answer. This paper examines these difficulties in assessing students' ability to evaluate ethical dilemmas by conducting an experiment on sophomore-level business students. Results indicate that minor changes to the presentation of an ethical dilemma significantly influences students' ability to identify a business practice as ethical or unethical. However, instructor does not influence students' evaluation of the ethical dilemma.