Are you looking to pursue a college business degree? Do you feel overwhelmed with all of the options of universities, business schools, and degrees out there? You might already know exactly which school you want to attend and the precise degree you want to earn. But, I bet you are one of the many who are still searching for the right degree, the right business school, or both. So, what factors do you compare and look for to assist you in narrowing it all down?
In your search for business schools and degrees, you may have come across information about how important it is to earn an accredited degree. But, what is accreditation? It is one of the essential factors when comparing different schools. In this Guide to Business School Accreditation, we will discuss the importance of accreditation, different types of accreditation, specific business school accreditation agencies, and how to choose the right accreditation for your educational journey.
What is Business School Accreditation?
Business school accreditation plays a significant role in quantifying the level of quality and excellence a business school offers. Different types of accrediting agencies evaluate specific business schools and degree programs. There is also particular accreditation earned by universities, colleges, and almost every degree, not just business. But, what exactly does accreditation entail? Let’s look at accreditation as a whole before we get into the specifics of business school accreditation.
What is Accreditation?
Accreditation is a rigorous process involving an outside authority – accrediting agency – reviewing an institution and its educational programs to ensure it meets official standards and certain levels of quality. It plays a regulatory role and is voluntary, temporary, and renewable, so institutions have to initiate the process and commit to continuous improvement. This initiation and commitment show a desire to obtain and sustain excellence and quality assurance. Accreditation also serves as a point of status for universities.
You can find recognized accreditation for universities and colleges as a whole, schools and colleges within a university, and specific degree programs, both on-campus and online. Depending on the agency, accreditation standards must be re-evaluated every few years to uphold accreditation status. The NACIQI (National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality & Integrity) makes recommendations of accrediting agencies to the U.S. Department of Education for national recognition. Also, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a non-governmental organization, reviews accrediting agencies for national recognition. So, the organizations rigorously studying postsecondary educational institutions to receive accreditation are equally vetted.
How Do Schools and Programs Get Accredited?
Each accrediting agency is unique in the specific criteria it looks for throughout the process. Some of the main areas of quality review could include:
- Student Services
- Financial Stability
- Operational Policies
- Student Learning
- Faculty expertise
- Retention & Placement Rates
The process of accreditation involves several factors, both internally and externally. Each institution seeking accreditation conducts an in-depth self-review, providing sufficient evidence they meet the standards set by the accreditor. The external quality review incorporates a team of peers, including faculty, practitioners, professors, presidents, and administrators from similar institutions. These experts utilize their academic and industry experience and professional knowledge to review the overall educational quality through on-site evaluations and objective peer reviews. They may dig into coursework and speak with students. Once a school or program receives accreditation, the accreditor will continuously monitor it and periodically re-evaluate it to ensure it upholds accreditation standards.
Now, accreditation is not only for traditional classes. Online degree programs can earn accreditation, as well. As the online world continues to enhance and excel in its educational offerings, accrediting agencies expect the same quality standards from online programs as their on-campus counterparts.
Types of Accreditation
As previously mentioned, there is both institutional and programmatic accreditation. Institutional accreditation involves the entire college or university, while programmatic accreditation is geared toward schools within a university, departments, degrees, and specific programs, including online degrees. It is also called specialized accreditation.
The most common institutional accreditation is regional. Most universities and colleges receive regional accreditation, including all public institutions. It’s good to note that credits transfer easily between regionally accredited schools, but they do not accept transfer credits from nationally accredited institutions. Some national accrediting agencies accredit several private, for-profit universities and vocational or technical institutions. But, remember not all universities and colleges are accredited.
Some of the most common regional accreditation agencies are:
- New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges & Universities (NWCCU)
- Accrediting Commission for Community & Junior Colleges (ACCJC)
A few of the national institutional accrediting agencies are:
- Association of Theological Schools (ATS)
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools & Colleges (ACCSC)
- Council on Occupational Education (COE)
- Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
Programmatic accreditation can range from a school of engineering or a business college down to just a specific discipline offered at the university. There is not an accrediting body for every type of degree program or school within a university. Some programs don’t have access to accreditation, but those that do will face varying qualification and industry requirements depending on the accrediting body and the specific discipline.
Over 60 programmatic accrediting organizations are recognized by either or both the U.S. Department of Education and CHEA. The variety of categories these accrediting organizations fit into include:
- Arts & Humanities
- Education Training
- Psychology & Counseling
- Personal Care & Services
- Community & Social Services
- Pastoral Education
- Social Work
- Public Policy
Why Does Accreditation Matter?
Since higher education institutions are not directly certified by governmental education agencies in the U.S., like they are in other countries, independent accrediting agencies are essential. Without a recognized accreditation organization evaluating and monitoring quality assurance, it would be almost impossible for anyone to trust that the college or university they are looking into will provide the utmost excellence in educational offerings.
Accreditation offers numerous benefits for universities, prospective students, current students, and graduates besides ensuring higher education institutions and their programs will provide you with a high-quality education.
Universities and Colleges
- Allows for institutional self-improvement goals
- Keeps schools accountable to quality standards
- Involves administrators, faculty, staff, and students in the self-evaluation process
- Assists in the search for acceptable institutions and programs
- Helps students qualify for employer tuition reimbursement programs
- Allows for easy transfer of course credits, which are more likely accepted
- Credits are respected, acknowledged, and usable
- Graduate programs, including online MBA programs, desire and most of the time require an applicant’s undergraduate degree to be from an accredited institution, mostly regional accreditation.
- Required for students to apply for and receive federal student aid through grants or loans. Some states require accreditation for state financial aid, as well.
Graduates and Professionals
- Validates a degree or program to employers, as many require completed degrees from accredited institutions
- Helps support the job applicant’s qualifications to employers
- Enables graduates to take state licensing and certification exams
Business School Accreditation
One of the types of programmatic or specialized accreditations is business school accreditation. Similar to the accrediting agencies that look at universities and other educational programs, business school accreditation specifically reviews business schools and the degree programs they offer. It is crucial that your business degree, at any level, is accredited by a recognized accrediting agency. Each one measures different aspects of a business school’s programs. Let’s take a deeper look at the top three accrediting agencies for business schools: AACSB, ACBSP, and IACBE.
Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
Getting its start in 1916, the AACSB was the first business school accrediting agency, arguably dominates the world of business accreditation, and is the largest and one of the most recognized in business education. It is a global nonprofit association involving business administration accreditation, accounting accreditation, and business education alliance membership. The organization values quality, social responsibility, global mindset, diversity, community, inclusion, ethics, and equity. Currently, the AACSB consists of over 100 member countries, 900 accredited schools worldwide, 1700 member organizations, and 150,000 educators, thought leaders, and innovators globally.
The AACSB grants accreditation for business administration and accounting degree programs on the undergraduate and graduate levels. Not only do they accredit business programs, but they also have a significant impact on the quality and intelligence of business education worldwide through providing learning and development services and connecting an international group of educators, students, and businesses to transform business education. It focuses on assisting colleges and universities in “sustaining quality and remaining relevant” in the ever-changing business world. Through the accreditation, development services, member network, and AACSB business community, people experience connection, inspiration, innovation, engagement, and impact while uniting with a common goal to “create the next generation of great leaders.”
Here is some information about the benefits of AACSB accreditation for business schools and students.
Best Business Schools and Programs
- Only 25-30% of U.S. business schools earn AACSB accreditation
- The benchmark of quality for business education
- Proven to provide the highest standards of excellence in both on-campus and online programs
- Tend to have better students, superior programs, and higher GPAs overall
- Attracts the best professors and researchers
- More international students, overall
- Rigorous teaching and skill development
- Recognized by other universities
- Recognized by top employers
- Employers trust that graduates have received the development of necessary skills.
- Some employers look for applicants to have AACSB-accredited degrees.
- Tend to have more access to recruiters
- Graduates are assured of adequate preparedness for a successful career.
- Increased opportunity for higher-paying jobs
- Some receive more competitive salaries.
- Excellent and possibly the best return on their investment
- Access to AACSB’s entire professional network
How to Achieve Accreditation
Schools seeking AACSB accreditation undergo a rigorous performance assessment in areas like teaching, student learning, research, and curricula development. The majority of AACSB-accredited institutions state that it is the “most stringent accreditation” of all their accreditations. It is known to take quite a while and a lot of work to qualify for AACSB accreditation.
Process of Accreditation
- The degree-granting college or university must have local/regional institutional accreditation.
- AACSB and the institution work together to formulate a plan to work towards accreditation and the institution’s strategic goals.
- A team of mentors and committees are assigned to assist with the plan’s implementation, and they are the ones that first decide when a school has met the quality standards.
- Next, a review team consisting of business school administrators and experienced educators conducts a site visit and makes a recommendation.
- The recommendation is submitted for final approval by the AACSB board of directors and an accreditation committee.
- If it does not receive final approval, the school continues meeting with the mentors and committees to further develop and implement their plan.
- Once final approval is met by all parties involved, the business school is granted AACSB accreditation for all of its business programs.
- Accreditation is reviewed every five years.
Accreditation Council for Business Schools & Programs
Bringing an innovative approach to business accreditation, the ACBSP was established in 1988 and is one of the leading global business education accrediting bodies. In fact, it is the first organization to accredit all business degree levels worldwide, from associate’s to doctoral, and the first to recognize the importance of accrediting private and religious institutions. The caliber of excellence ACBSP provided as an accrediting body qualified it to be the first to receive both U.S. Department of Education and CHEA recognition.
The ACBSP has built its standards upon its core values in dynamic learning, social advancement, quality, learning-centered education, organizational learning, and continuous improvement. It is committed to inclusion, equality, and diversity. Today, ACBSP comprises over 1,260 member campuses in 60 countries, including those who have achieved accreditation and candidacy for accreditation, over 10,000 individual members, and numerous corporate members.
To support, celebrate, and reward a rigorous educational experience that involves teaching excellence, student learning, and continuous quality improvement while recognizing the importance of scholarly research. That is ACBSP accreditation in a nutshell. But, it digs deep into each of these areas to support real-world success for every student. ACBSP follows the Baldrige Performance Excellence model evaluating areas of strategic planning, faculty credentials, leadership, quality of academic programs, relationships with stakeholders, and educational support. It accredits business programs at all degree levels.
Here is some information about the benefits of ACBSP accreditation for business schools and students.
- Provides a “Roadmap to Success” that includes a set of standards, goals, and direction in obtaining accreditation
- A global professional network for faculty and staff
- Legitimizes the business school, programs, and business department
- Global recognition of business programs
- Faculty and staff have access to workshops and seminars presented by ACBSP staff and leadership.
- A global professional network for students
- It legitimizes your degree.
- Gain marketability and a competitive advantage in landing a job
- They are assured of gaining the skills employers desire.
- Global recognition of your business degree – “accreditation with global distinction”
- ACBSP community colleges and four-year universities have better articulation agreements between themselves versus with other accredited or non-accredited institutions. This allows for easier transfer of credits.
- Students have access to workshops and seminars presented by ACBSP staff and leadership.
How to Achieve Accreditation
Each ACBSP-accredited institution must demonstrate quality and a commitment to excellence in academic programs, serving students, and impacting other institutions and industries. A specific set of standards is evaluated within the business program in each of these areas: leadership, faculty focus, student learning assessment, strategic planning, curriculum, student and stakeholder focus, and business unit performance. Every business school striving for ACBSP accreditation must become a member first and proceed with the accreditation process, including self-study, on-site visitation, and assessment. As accreditation covers programs at each campus for multi-campus institutions, each campus will be required to join as members for the accreditation process to commence.
Process of Accreditation
- First Year
- Complete the membership process.
- Complete the application for candidacy.
- Get assigned a mentor who helps create an action plan and timetable for meeting the accreditation standards.
- Second Year
- Mentor recommends the business program to the Chief Accreditation Officer for approval.
- Begin the self-study process, which will last one full academic year.
- Third Year
- An evaluation team completes a site visit. They submit their report within two weeks.
- The report and all accreditation materials are reviewed by the Board of Commissioners in November and April.
- The decision is reported to the members.
- Business schools and programs that achieve accreditation are recognized at the summer ACBSP Annual Conference.
- Accreditation is granted for ten years and can be reviewed for reaffirmation at that time.
International Accreditation Council for Business Education
Administrators, leaders, and faculty of business programs and higher education began to express the desire for an organization that offered a mission-driven and outcomes-based accreditation process. Thus, the IACBE was formed in 1997. It is now the “global leader in outcomes-based business program accreditation” that ensures excellence in business management education through teaching, learning, and continuous improvement.
What sets them apart and is fundamental to IACBE accreditation is its emphasis on mission-related outcomes and principles designed to promote excellence versus a specific set of academic standards and criteria, like all other accrediting bodies. As a CHEA-recognized accrediting organization, the IACBE has hundreds of member campuses worldwide accrediting over 2,000 programs. It stands firm in the core values of collegiality, developmental philosophy, collaboration, continuous improvement, diversity, and responsiveness to its members.
The IACBE accredits associates through doctoral business, accounting, and business-related degree programs worldwide. Its unique mission involves evidence-based accreditation that supports the overall mission and vision of the business school or program in advancing academic quality and excellence through the assessment of educational outcomes. It offers a supportive environment, training, resources, and guidance for IACBE members developing or participating in high-quality, innovative business programs. Membership comprises individual and educational members, candidates for accreditation, and accredited members. The IACBE promotes innovation, creativity, awareness, global cooperation, ethical practices, and the globalization of business education while providing information, research, and best practices in business education.
Here is some information about the benefits of IACBE accreditation for business schools and students.
- Provides leadership, professional development, and networking opportunities for faculty, staff, and other business educators
- Dedicated partnership providing continuous improvement of business programs
- Members experience collaboration and cooperation with other members.
- Business education resources library for members
- Professional development and networking events for students through conferences, accreditation institutes offering workshops, student case study competitions, and webinars
- Students experience personal and professional development.
- Assured of receiving a high-quality business education that is ethical, follows best practices, and offers high principles of excellence
- Business education resources library for members
- Receives a high-quality and respected business degree recognized by other IACBE-accredited business programs
How to Achieve Accreditation
In seeking IACBE accreditation, a business school or program must obtain a membership first and then begin the candidacy process. While in candidacy status, the business unit works together with IACBE in preparing to align with IACBE’s Accreditation Principles, conduct a comprehensive self-study, and complete a site visit. IACBE mentors are available to consult in areas like the accreditation process, preparing a self-study or for a site visit, IACBE’s accreditation principles, budgeting processes, etc. Generally, to reach accreditation status takes two to four years. Once a business school or program is IACBE accredited, it will last up to seven years before reaffirmation is required.
Process of Accreditation
- Become an educational member.
- Attend the Accreditation Institute.
- Apply for candidacy.
- Complete a candidacy visit and a review by the Board of Commissioners.
- If candidacy is granted, the business school or program moves to “Candidate for Accreditation” status. If not, it can continue to work on the issues and resubmit.
- Apply for accreditation.
- Conduct the self-study and complete the site visit.
- Complete an accreditation review by the Board of Commissioners.
- Either accreditation is granted, and the institution is recognized at the following year’s annual conference, or accreditation is denied, and the institution continues to remedy the issues and resubmit.
Do you feel you understand accreditation now? Are you questioning which accreditation you should look for in a business program? Any of these three top business accrediting agencies will suffice for setting a standard of excellence in the business education you pursue. Here are some tips to contemplate as you research universities and business schools:
Do Your Research!
- No university or college is required to be accredited. So, you must check the university’s website to confirm it is accredited. Public universities will have regional accreditation. If you pursue a private university, ensure a nationally-recognized accrediting agency accredits them.
- Also, employers may prefer degrees from regionally accrediting agencies, so check with some employers in your field of interest and see if they require regionally accredited universities or are ok with nationally accredited universities.
- Ensure the business school or program is accredited by a nationally recognized agency by the U.S. Department of Education or CHEA. You can search both websites to see which accrediting agencies they recognize.
- As for the three accreditation organizations in this guide, you can check each of their websites to see which schools and programs they accredit.
- If you transfer credits, make sure you transfer between institutions that carry similar accreditation, like two regionally accredited institutions. If you are transferring specific business credits, you may need to keep the business accreditation the same between the two business schools.
You will face numerous decisions while figuring out the right school and degree for you. But rest assured, once you have confirmed accreditation for both the university and the business school or program, you will receive an excellent education that will prepare you for success in the business world.