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Just as students seek a degree to prove that they have undergone a course of study, so do colleges and universities seek certifications to verify their status as purveyors of academic excellence. Accreditation is just that sort of certification. In fact, accreditation is of vital importance for any academic program. MBA degree (and certificate) programs have their own special credentialing agencies, such as the AACSB, the ACBSP and the IACBE.

When students seek out an online MBA program, they need the sort of assurance that accreditation brings. When they find that an MBA program holds either an AACSB or ACBSP credential, they can be assured that their degree will open doors with employers nationwide. In fact, many people may have no idea about these credentialing agencies, but they will recognize the MBA programs for their reputations of excellence.

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What MBA Accreditation Means for a School

Accreditation is a credentialing process for every post-secondary and graduate level institution of higher learning. While it is not required, non-accredited schools, and those with substandard credentials, are generally not held in high esteem. Students who graduate from those schools find that their credits may not transfer to other schools and their degrees are not as highly acknowledged in the employment market.

When it comes to schools with valid, esteemed accreditation, there are various levels of esteem they receive. Generally speaking, there are graduate schools with regional accreditation from CHEA-approved agencies but also schools and programs with nationally recognized accreditation. In the case of MBA programs, there are two main accreditation agencies, the AACSB and the ACBSP. When an MBA program, or any other business degree program, carries nationally recognized credentials, those degrees are respected by employers all over the nation.

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Thus, the better accreditation a school has, the better students it hopes to appeal to. Those students then tend to have more success in business, which then reinforces the school's accreditation status.

What Accreditation Means for Students

Accreditation is one of the main features of an MBA program that students should pay attention to. When a program is accredited, it has been thoroughly audited by an independent agency. That audit process includes the MBA degree program's admissions, graduation rates, faculty, and curriculum. Accreditors may also review all parts of every course syllabus to ensure that students will learn valuable and relevant information.

Accreditation agencies review each school's admission standards to ensure that high caliber students are admitted. They look for a slim margin of admission, which indicates a competitive policy. Those schools tend to retain their highly motivated students who then graduate in high numbers. In fact, schools with higher rates of attrition (losing students over the years to transfer or drop-out) tend to be downgraded in terms of independent rankings and, if the attrition rises too high, they may even lose their accreditation status.

Thus, a national accreditation can mean very good things for MBA students. For one thing, every student who is admitted to an accredited MBA degree program can expect that they will be in good company. That is, if they have worked hard in their undergraduate programs and then in their business careers, they can expect that their peers have done likewise. Strong MBA degree programs also attract the best business minds for faculty appointments, which means that courses are very high value.

Working MBA students whose employers have tuition reimbursement programs also see benefits. Employers want to invest in degrees that are sure to mean the most for their firm. They are unlikely to reimburse employees for non-accredited MBA degree programs. Conversely, they are more likely to reimburse employees according to the level of accreditation their MBA program holds. MBA programs with regional accreditation may receive some funds, but those with national accreditation from AACSB or ACBSP are likely to receive more generous reimbursement packages.

What are the Types of Accreditation?

There are two general types of academic accreditation. There are accreditations that cover a school as a whole and then those that are specific to business schools, or other specific areas or programs, like nursing. Most schools hold regional accreditation which covers the institution as a whole. These credentials should come from a CHEA-approved agency. Students can feel confident in this credential, but it should also be seen as something of a minimum standard. Graduate students should make sure that their program is covered by the regional credentials, but they should also look for MBA degree programs with national, or international, program-specific accreditation. In the case of business degree programs, students should look for AACSP, ACBSP, or IACBE accreditation.

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Those accrediting agencies focus specifically on business programs from the community college level through master's business degree levels. When a program is certified by national agencies such as the AACSP or ACBSP, this means that they have met very high standards for business education excellence. Since they confer nationally recognized credentials, students can feel confident that their MBA degree will open doors to employers nationwide.

Also, there is an international accreditation agency, IACBE, whose credentials are acknowledged by businesses all over the world. Certification from the IACBE may be especially helpful for MBA students who are considering work overseas or in international business. These programs may also attract students from abroad who may wish to return home to apply their knowledge.

Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is the oldest accrediting agency for business schools in the United States. They have maintained their high quality and exacting standards for over a century and are considered the gold standard for MBA or other business school accreditation. While their long tenure and criteria may seem stodgy, the AACSB has evolved to meet changes in technology and the overall business community.

The AACSB was founded in 1916 when business degree programs were still rather new. Given its age, it might not be a surprise that the AACSB focuses on more traditional aspects of business scholarship. That is, their criteria focus on faculty research and credentials. AACSB is more concerned with theories of business and how MBA programs help to further that sort of research.

Their standards remain very high and any MBA degree program who can boast AACSB accreditation is worth applying to. They monitor vital aspects of every program they certify. For example, the AACSB examines the faculty workload. They may see a faculty workload as too high if the school in question has much higher standards than other comparable programs. On top of merely examining the numbers, the AACSB interviews faculty to ensure that they are able to devote ample time to teaching, advising, and research.

Interestingly, the AACSB is not concerned with faculty who teach non-business courses in an MBA program. There are interdisciplinary programs that integrate other fields alongside business, but the AACSB is only concerned with the quality of the business instruction. They also are not concerned with teaching assistants unless they are found to have extraordinary responsibilities.

AACSB not only accredits undergraduate, MBA, and other business related programs, but they extend accreditation to accounting programs as well. Furthermore, AACSB also accredits traditional as well as online business degree programs. Any program that holds their certification should be considered to be among the very best business schools available anywhere.

Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)

The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) was founded in 1988. At the time, only a select few business programs were accredited, likely by the AACSB. However, the business climate in the nation was changing and they saw a need to evolve accreditation standards to meet the needs of students and businesses alike. Thus, they implemented new standards for accreditation.

In fact, the ACBSP focuses its accreditation standards on results. That is, they are more interested in a professor's effectiveness than their research. The ACBSP places an emphasis on teaching over research. Traditionalists may find that worrisome, but students who place learning and long-term outcomes at the top of their priority list will applaud this criteria. Thus, a working businessperson might join an MBA faculty and focus their classroom instruction on actual cases for business models rather than scholarly research. The accrediting agency also looks at how students fare after graduation. That is, their accreditors may prefer to see a graduate achieve standing in the business community rather than in academia.

Essentially, the ACBSP realized that business schools have a duty to prepare students for long-term success in business. Outcomes and tangible results are at the forefront of any of their accredited schools. They even extend their esteemed certifications to all levels of post-secondary education, from associate business degrees through MBA programs. MBA Accounting programs are also reviewed and certified by this esteemed accreditation agency. Finally, the ACBSP has also expanded the accreditation field by bestowing credentials on certificate programs in business. Thus, a student can return to school to sharpen their resume and still emerge with certified credentials without completing a full master's business degree program.

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Given the ACBSP's focus on outcomes and real-world efficacy, they have evolved to meet current needs. Thus, students in online business programs, including executive MBA programs, can receive a degree certified by the agency. They also work with hybrid and interdisciplinary business degree programs.

International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)

The world of business education accreditation extends beyond national borders to include an international agency, the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE), which applies its standards to business programs worldwide. They accredit academic business degree programs at all levels, including associate business degrees to PhD programs. Since 2011, the IACBE has been recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) for excellence in business school accreditation.

The IACBE was founded in 1997 to address the needs of business schools that needed accreditation. In particular, mission driven, outcomes-based business schools had found themselves left out of the accrediting process and they wanted recognition for their dedication to excellence. Business and business-related programs outside of the United States also needed recognition. Now, the IACBE has accredited over 1,000 business related programs both in and outside of the U.S.

Much like the ACBSP, the IACBE is concerned with long-term outcomes for students. During the accreditation process, business schools or programs conduct a thorough self-examination of their program. Then the IACBE sends an independent team of peer reviewers. Finally, the agency's Board of Commissioners reviews all of the relevant material and makes their decision.

Why Might a School Choose ACBSP over AACSB Accreditation?

While the AACSB is considered the gold standard for MBA degree accreditations, an accreditation from the ACBSP is also highly valued. In fact, many students may prefer an ACBSP-approved business program over one with AACSB credentials. This is because the ACBSP's standards are sometimes more aligned with what most students desire.

The ACBSP is focused more on teaching, learning, and long-term outcomes for students. Today's business student is likely more concerned with learning and succeeding in the business world than delving deep into business theory. Plus, with an ACBSP accreditation, students know that their professors will have been scrutinized for more than their publication record. After all, a long list of publications and ground-breaking research is no guarantee of classroom efficacy. Students need a professor who can convey the ground-breaking research in a classroom setting.

Which Type of Accreditation Should You Choose?

The question of which accreditation a student should choose is difficult, to say the least. To make the decision as easy as possible, students should take stock of their long-term goals for their MBA degree. If they are more interested in academic research and theoretical business concepts, then accreditation from the AACSB might make more sense.

On the other hand, students who are eager to hit the ground running and become the world's next billionaire CEO might want a degree from a ACBSP accredited program. Those students are more interested in effective teaching and professional outcomes. Yet other factors may come into play, as well, such as striving to enter an already-world class business.

When choosing an MBA program, students should first research what each program has to offer in terms of courses, concentration areas, and overall reputation. They can also seek out alumni from their top choices and see how they have fared. Once they have evaluated and chosen a few programs based solely on these criteria, it can be interesting to see what sort of accreditation each has. Students who have assumed that they'd prefer one accreditation credential over another might be surprised. You may find that it is perhaps most important that a business program have an accreditation from either the ACBSP or the AACSB because, at the end of the day, an MBA degree is more about what students want to make of it than anything.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference in focus between the AACSB and the ACBSP?

The AACSB spends more time focusing on the professor’s work than the ACBSP. The ACBSP tends to focus more on the effectiveness of the teaching rather than how busy the professors are. They also emphasize teaching rather than research. Thus, this might be the way to go if you are more worried about the long-term results of your education rather than the workload of your professor.

Is one type of accreditation more valid than the other?

Honestly, that’s up to you as the student. Each one indicates strong academics from the institution that they accredit. One of these is older than the other and might receive more name recognition, though the younger of the two has now been around since the 80s, so that’s less of an issue than it used to be. Knowing their different areas of focus, research vs results, may help you decide which one is for you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one is better than the other.

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