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A Look at Business School Accreditations

The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) offers a variety of online business master's degree programs: a general Master of Business Administration (MBA) as well as ten specialized MBA programs, a customizable Executive MBA program and a Master of Science (M.S.) in Business Analytics. Through this wide range of program options, graduate-level business students can specialize in everything from healthcare management to information systems, cybersecurity to entrepreneurship and business development.

UNCW's Cameron School of Business is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International). AACSB International 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 AACSB International, 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:

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

Accreditation is essential in attracting the finest students. Serious students look for accredited schools with branding and a reputation they (and future employers) can trust. 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: to uphold and advance the highest educational standards for the betterment of all 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 AACSB International, 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

AACSB International is the oldest global association for advancing business 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 AACSB's business accreditation standards have been continually updated for over a century to ensure quality and continuous improvement in collegiate business education.

According to the agency's 2022 State of Accreditation Report, only 5.7% of the world's business schools held AACSB accreditation as of June 2022, representing 949 accredited schools from around the globe. Similarly, 192 institutions held an additional, specialized AACSB accreditation for their accounting programs at the time of the report's release.

AACSB's accreditation reports also offer in-depth insights drawn from analysis and reporting of accredited schools which can prove useful for students, institutions and employers. For instance, advanced analytics programs are currently the fastest growing area in master's degree fields, evidencing student interest and industry demand for qualified professionals.

Having a degree from an AACSB-accredited school can be especially valuable for your business career if:

  • 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

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 teaching excellence, student learning outcomes and continuous improvement. The organization's student-centered teaching and learning approach is designed to make sure that students gain the skills they will need 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 (i.e., a university's business college) relative to its own unique mission as well as "high principles of excellence" and "best practice in business education."

The IACBE's accreditation process involves comprehensive self-study in addition to 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.

You can then verify accreditation claims against the lists supplied on the websites of the accrediting organizations. If you see an accreditation you don't recognize, you can check if the accrediting agency has globally recognized ISO 9001:2015 certification (as with AACSB) or is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education.

Learn more about UNCW's online MBA programs.


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