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The Importance of Business School Accreditation

woman using laptop sitting on steps leading up to college campus building
woman using laptop sitting on steps leading up to college campus building

Business school accreditation assures students that the school or its MBA program adheres to high quality standards based on the latest research and professional practice. An accredited institution must continue to demonstrate at regular review cycles that it is developing and growing, not just maintaining existing standards.

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Accreditation by an accrediting body creates a gateway for students to participate in federally funded and state financial aid programs. In order to receive federal funds, an institution must be accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).

Attending an accredited institution may also make you more competitive in the job market as some employers will only accept degrees from an accredited institution when considering promotions or salary.

So as you are exploring schools, deciding on a program, and preparing to take the GMAT (or making sure other requirements are in order if your school doesn't consider the GMAT), be sure to add "confirm accreditation status" to your checklist.

What Does it Mean to Be Accredited?

Accreditation takes place on both the institutional and programmatic level. Schools and MBA programs will usually disclose their accreditations on their websites, brochures, application materials, and other information.

Institutional accreditation...

happens when the accrediting body reviews the school as a whole. In addition to curriculum and teaching quality, they may also examine student support systems, resources, financial aid, and so on.

Programmatic accreditation...

is focused on one specific degree program or area of concentration. The reviewers will assess the quality of the program, learning outcomes and student achievement, faculty qualifications, and other criteria.

"Not all programs have a programmatic accreditor, but students should be sure that if there is one, the college or university they chose should have both institutional accreditation and programmatic accreditation," explains Laura Janota, public information officer for the Higher Learning Commission, a U.S. post-secondary institutional accrediting body.

Until recently, there were also national and regional accreditation designations at the institutional level. The national accrediting organizations typically dealt with private and vocational schools, and regional organizations reviewed state universities and non-profit institutions.

However, the U.S. Department of Education eliminated the distinction in July 2020 because of concerns that many students were being adversely affected by the labels. For example, some students had difficulty transferring credits between nationally and regionally accredited schools.

The DOE eliminated the regional and national distinction at the institutional level in July 2020 because of concerns that many students were being adversely affected by the labels.

Now, the DOE holds all accrediting organizations to the same standards. The only difference is between accreditation of the institution as a whole and accreditation of the program specifically.

School and Program Review Process

Each accrediting organization has its own processes, but in general, the review proceeds like this:

  1. The school or program submits an application for accreditation. Many accrediting organizations require the business school to be a member of the organization.
  2. The school or program undergoes a self-evaluation and submits the report to the accrediting agency. Deans, faculty, and staff members may participate.

"We encourage schools to be transparent," says Stephanie Bryant, chief accreditation officer with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), which accredits business degree programs.

Bryant explains that teams participating in the review process consist of peers from other institutions who can help by giving advice and sharing ideas. "They're not just here to police you but also to help you," she says.

Working with a mentor or peer reviewers from the organization, the school or program leaders may make many changes and revisions in efforts to meet standards of quality the accrediting agency has set. When the school is ready, a mentor will visit the school and discuss the accreditation application. More revisions may be made at this time. If the school meets standards, accreditation will be granted.

Once initial accreditation is granted, the school or the degree program undergoes periodic reviews.

Overall, the accreditation process is:

Voluntary.
Institutions and programs request to participate in the accreditation process and pay a fee to the accrediting organization.
Comprehensive.
The accreditation process involves looking at many aspects of the educational process. The reviewers examine documents and records, faculty and student work, and other evidence of school quality.
Collaborative.
The reviewers do not merely judge a program as pass or fail. They work with the school's deans and faculty to identify areas of strength and other matters that may need attention.
Periodic.
An institution or program is not accredited just once. It must periodically undergo review to make sure it is staying relevant with evolving educational and career guidelines.

How Do You Know if a School or Program is Accredited?

Schools usually list their accreditations on their websites and other literature. If you don't see any accreditation listed, you should call and ask.

You can also search for schools on the websites of the accrediting agencies or on the U.S. Department of Education's website.

Accreditation and Financial Aid

Accreditation—or lack of accreditation—can have an impact on the students who are pursuing a degree. You may find it difficult to get financial aid if you attend an institution or enroll in an MBA program that isn't accredited. This holds true for any student, whether you are attending a college domestically or abroad.

The U.S. Department of Education approves financial aid from federal and state sources only if the school has been accredited by an organization approved by the DOE. And, if you change schools, you may not be able to transfer credits for classes you took from an institution or program that lacks accreditation.

Accrediting Agencies

Accrediting agencies are often known by initials, and from that alone, it can be confusing to figure what the agency is and what they do. In addition to accreditation, most organizations serve as professional resources and continuing education. Some publish academic journals.

Here are some common accrediting organizations:

Institutional Accrediting Agencies

Higher Learning Commission (HLC): Accredits colleges and universities in the Midwest and West.

New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE): Accredits institutions in New England, as well as some international schools.

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE): Accredits institutions in states along the U.S East Coast, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC): Accredits colleges and universities in the Southern states.

Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU): Accredits colleges and universities in Alaska, Montana, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia.

Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WSCUC): Accredits institutions in California, Hawaii, and some international locations.

European Foundation for Management Development Quality Improvement System (EQUIS): Accredits colleges and universities all over the world, with a few in North America.

Programmatic Accrediting Agencies (Business Schools and MBA Degree Programs)

Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)

The AACSB is a nonprofit organization with more than 1,700 members worldwide. More than 900 business schools across the globe have AACSB accreditation. The goals of the AACSB are to encourage strategic management, learner success, thought leadership, and societal impact. They examine such aspects as curriculum, teaching effectiveness, faculty and staff resources, and financial aid resources.

The AACSB emphasizes standards that are principles-based and outcomes-focused. Bryant emphasizes the teamwork involved in making sure the business degree programs meet their standards.

"The quality of reviews are quite rigorous, but we're also committed to being a community," Bryant explains.

Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)

With 1,200 member campuses around the world, the ASBSP emphasizes student-centered learning and continuous improvement in its accreditation process. It uses criteria such as strategic planning, academic quality, leadership, faculty credentials, student support and resources, and relationships with stakeholders.

In addition to accreditation activities, the ACBSP publishes a peer-reviewed academic journal.

International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)

The IACBE accredits programs in business and accounting at post-secondary institutions around the globe, including in the United States. The IACBE also sponsors conferences and workshops for continued professional development.

What Accreditation is the Most Important for Business Schools and Programs?

AACSB is the most common accreditation for business degree programs in major institutions and considered by many to be the best assurance of quality.

"Look for an AASCB accredited school," advises John Gibson, director of admissions for Purdue University Krannert School of Management, adding that students should look for programmatic accreditation. "That way you're being guaranteed that the faculty is qualified, the school is qualified, and the budget is set aside for top-of-the-line instruction."

Smaller institutions and private schools are often accredited by ACBSP and IACBE, and these are also respected accrediting agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

"People need to do their homework on what the accreditations are, what they mean, how long they've been around, and how well respected they are," Bryant says.


karen hanson

Written and reported by:

Karen S. Hanson

Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

Laura Janota

Public Information Officer, Higher Learning Commission

john gibson

John Gibson

Associate Director of Admissions, Purdue University Krannert School of Management

stephanie bryant

Stephanie Bryant

Chief Accreditation Officer, AACSB