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A Look at Business School Accreditations

The AACSB-accredited UNCW Cameron School of Business offers five MBA programs and five EMBA programs online. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) has been synonymous with the highest academic standards for business schools worldwide since 1916. But what does AACSB accreditation signify today?

What is the importance of business school accreditation in general, which are the important accreditation boards, and how do they compare?

The Objectives of Accreditation

Accreditation is one of the most important factors to consider as an MBA candidate because it signifies that a business school has willingly sought and paid for an independent assessment of its curricula, coursework, faculty, services and even the academic qualifications of its students. A rigorous accreditation process, such as that of the AACSB, typically includes the following:

  • Evaluation of curriculum and coursework.
  • Vetting of faculty qualifications.
  • Self-evaluations by faculty and administrators.
  • Annual data reporting.
  • Peer and committee reviews.
  • Following a set of academic standards.
  • Development of strategic plans and action items.

The objectives of this rigorous process include:

  • Ensure that the quality of the school matches or exceeds the overall academic standards of the institution.
  • Assure employers that graduates will have the academic background and up-to-date training necessary for success in business.
  • Assure prospective students that they will receive an education meeting the highest standards, the training they need and a degree employers respect.
  • Attract the most qualified professors in order to perpetuate academic quality.
  • Enable prospective students, faculty members and employers to each make informed decisions with regard to their own interests.

Accreditation is essential in attracting the finest students. According to John Fernandes, the first president of AACSB, serious students "gravitate toward accredited and better-branded schools." When considering a degree in any field, the quality of the student body should be a primary consideration. It is especially important in a business school, where students work collaboratively, challenge one another, and network professionally following graduation.

Finally, it should be noted that many professionals in academia share a core value with accrediting bodies, and that is to uphold and advance the highest educational standards for the betterment of all of the individuals and institutions that comprise a society. Education is a proven social development factor for societies, and those with the strongest educational institutions tend to produce a higher quality of life for their citizens. To this end, the objectives and values of accreditation are transcendent.

Accreditation Standards

There are several business school accreditation agencies to consider when looking for MBA programs in the United States. These include the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE). Regional organizations also grant accreditation status to qualifying schools in their geographic locales.

AACSB -- Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business is the oldest global association for advancing management education. AACSB Accreditation is known as the most recognized form of specialized and professional accreditation an institution and its business programs can earn. The agency's standards were first adopted in 1919, and have been continually updated for nearly a century to ensure quality and continuous improvement in collegiate business education.

According to the agency's website, "AACSB Accreditation is the hallmark of excellence in business education, and has been earned by less than five percent of the world's business schools." There are currently 816 business institutions in 53 countries and territories that have earned AACSB accreditation. Similarly, 187 institutions hold an additional, specialized AACSB accreditation for their accounting programs.

AACSB accreditation is especially valuable for various types of business professionals:

  • You are in an industry in which employers prefer academic prestige. 
  • A majority of leaders in your industry are MBAs from AACSB-accredited institutions.
  • Your employer's tuition reimbursement plan requires AACSB accreditation.
  • You may at some point want to work on the faculty of a business college.
  • You believe you can meet qualifying test scores for the GRE or GMAT.

ACBSP -- Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs

ACBSP was founded in 1988 to accredit business education programs around the world at the associate, baccalaureate, master's and doctoral levels. It is not an accreditation for an institution (business school) as is the AACSB accreditation.

ACBSP's accreditation process focuses on recognizing teaching excellence, determining student learning outcomes, and a continuous improvement model. The organization's student-centered teaching and learning approach is designed to ensure that students gain the right skills from their educational investment. According to ACBSP, "Institutions with programs accredited by ACBSP are committed to continuous improvement that ensures their business program will give students the skills employers want."

IACBE -- International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education

The IACBE accredits business programs that lead to degrees at the associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels in institutions of higher education worldwide that grant bachelor's and/or graduate degrees. 

The IACBE was founded in 1997 in response to a demand for a mission-driven, outcomes-based accreditation process. This body emphasizes educational outcomes of an academic business unit relative to its own unique mission, rather than broad prescriptive standards.

The IACBE's accreditation process involves an independent, external evaluation of the business programs offered by an institution's academic business unit. The effectiveness of the academic business unit is evaluated by reviewing the educational processes related to teaching and learning in the institution, and by an assessment of the outcomes of the teaching-learning process.

Whichever accreditation organization best matches your criteria for institution and program selection, it pays to research each prospective institution and program's accreditation status thoroughly. You can find this information by visiting each institution/program website and looking for the seals of the accrediting agencies. Then you can verify the claims against the lists supplied on the websites of these organizations. If you see an accreditation you don't recognize, you can look it up in the U.S. Department of Education's accreditation database.

Learn more about UNCW's online MBA programs.


Poets & Quants: Why B-School Accreditation Matters

College Board: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society

AACSB: Who We Are

AACSB: Accredited Schools

ACBSP: Accreditation

IACBE: Mission-Driven Accreditation

U.S. Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs

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