Successfully launching or managing a business takes a host of skills, experience, and gumption. That’s why earning a Masters of Business Administration degree can give an entrepreneur a leg up. Through the program, you are given the critical tools to keep operations running smoothly, conquer challenges, stay cost-effective while remaining competitive, and manage various more specific aspects of a business organization. The degree itself confers a form of validation that rises to the top on a resume — so much so that, in a 2015 U.S. News & World Report survey of 129 business schools, many saw over 90% job placement rates for recent graduates.
Yet behind the MBA degree is another important aspect, one that should inform the process of selecting right the school and MBA program: accreditation.
What is accreditation?
Accreditation, as it refers to educational programs, is when a school or program is reviewed, audited, or otherwise studied by a reputable regulatory organization and its methods approved or validated.
It acts as a form of quality control: These accreditation organizations take their time evaluating a school’s teaching, services, programs, faculty — even the student body — and determine if the school meets the quality standards the evaluating agency has set. If the school meets or exceeds these standards, it is conferred an accreditation — essentially an endorsement of the school’s merit by the agency. What makes accreditation such an important consideration for an enrolling student is that there is no direct federal guidance for accreditation. Different private agencies — each with distinct, yet often overlapping quality standards — are tasked with evaluating schools and issuing accreditations.
As such, a school can garner multiple accreditations by various agencies — or be unaccredited and still legally teach students. It’s this lack of unifying guidance that makes considering not just if a school is accredited, but by whom so important. Since an agency can develop strict or lax quality standards as it deems fit, the reputation of the accreditation agency takes on a vital role.
With that in mind, no accreditations are more reputable or sought-after for MBA programs in the U.S. than the ones offered by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
AACSB or ACBSP
So what’s the difference between accreditations from these two agencies? Is it more desirable to be accredited from one agency than with the other?
AACSB is the older of the two agencies, having launched in 1916 and focusing exclusively on accrediting North American schools before eventually expanding its scope internationally. For much of its history, AACSB was the preeminent accrediting agency for schools in the U.S. Its only peers were international accreditation agencies like AMBA — the Association of MBAs, based in London — and EQUIS — European Quality Improvement System, based in Brussels.
In contrast, ACBSP is a much younger organization, founded in 1988 by representatives from 149 business schools and programs across the country. ACBSP cropped up in response to what some experts perceived as gaps in the accreditation process. ACBSP was the first accreditation agency to include associate degree schools, as well as private and religious institutions, under its purview. It became the first accrediting body to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education in 1992 and later, the first to be recognized by international authority CHEA, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, in 2001.
With both of these accreditation agencies, the quality standards and review process aim to be both thorough and transparent. Transparency is key when it comes to verifying that an accreditation is legitimate and a true sign of quality, with regular rechecks vital to ensure that this quality doesn’t slip. As such, the AACSB requires a program review every five years to ensure it continues to meet standards while ACBSP requires business schools to comply with a full quality assurance review every two years following initial accreditation or reaffirmation of accreditation.
Why is accreditation important?
Seeking an accredited MBA program is crucial for graduates looking to enter the job market and rise to the top in their peer group. Although some non-accredited schools may claim to offer a high-quality education even without this seal of approval, here are the top four reasons why an MBA from an accredited school is vital to future success:
1. Accreditation speaks to the quality of your education
As previously discussed, the lack of a unified, federally mandated standard for education has left the market full of smaller schools making bold claims about job placement and their learning programs — yet often without the data immediately available to verify these claims.
As such, employers may find themselves combing through resumes of candidates boasting an MBA without any true sense of how qualified that candidate may be for the job.
In these circumstances, reputation — legitimized by a trusted and respected agency — can be the difference between being tossed to the side or given a second look.
“Reputation is key when it comes to choosing a school,” said Mark Stoddard, accreditation projects manager at AMBA. “Employers not only ask whether you have an MBA, but where you studied and some programs have better reputations than others. You can measure the quality and impact of an MBA program by checking that it has the right accreditations.”
2. Accreditation can be internationally recognized
Again owing to the challenge of fluctuating standards regarding a quality education, if you choose to work overseas — or simply find yourself working with international partners — the quality of an MBA may again be called into question.
Without a degree from an accredited school, all international business partners and employers see when a candidate submits a resume is that the candidate claims to have an MBA. They may not have even heard of the school a candidate attended, let alone be familiar with its reputation for quality.
As such, these international parties may not want to risk taking a chance on an unproven candidate. With some accreditations there is an international component: Accreditation agencies based in the U.S. may accredit international schools, acting essentially as a cross-cultural endorsement of quality.
An MBA from an ACBSP accredited program — recognized by the international CHEA — can speak to employers around the world, regardless of different languages and cultures.
3. Accreditation can help you gain financial aid
In spite of accreditation agencies being private institutions, they have a significant impact on a student’s ability to qualify for federal funding.
Those accreditation agencies that have been recognized by the DOE have been federally confirmed to be “reliable authorities concerning the quality of education or training offered by the institutions of higher education or higher education programs they accredit.”
This nod from the DOE confers on the schools that have received the accreditation the ability to apply for Approval to Participate (E-APP) in federal student financial aid programs, as well as receive other grants to help pay for secondary schooling. This can hold true for some accredited online programs.
The exact federal aid program a student qualifies for may vary according to other facts, like where you live, your veteran status and more.
4. Accreditation is thorough and long-lasting
One thing that can confuse some students in their search for the right school and MBA program is the relationship of school ranking to accreditation. While both are subjective assessments of a school’s quality by a third party, there are fundamental and meaningful differences in terms of the relationship to quality.
Many MBA programs — both accredited and not — are ranked yearly by various agencies, publications, and academic reviewers. Depending on the reputation of the organization ranking the schools, high placement on this list can be a measure of a MBA’s quality. Indeed, since accreditation is set up as a binary — separating schools into accredited or non-accredited categories, without degrees of quality — rankings can even assist a student in choosing between multiple accredited MBA programs.
Yet, rankings ultimately represent a fleeting snapshot of a school’s commitment to certain academic standards — and may ultimately not take the entire academic picture into account.
Accreditation goes deeper and is more reflective of the true quality of a school. The rigor by which accreditation is petitioned for, reviewed, and obtained means that auditors go deeper and take a broader approach than might be otherwise possible in a ranking. Often, accreditation takes into account the underlying processes of a program and its curriculum — how it’s set up, how faculty and students communicate, and how the teaching itself is imparted.
The main accreditation agencies have codified objective standards over time, meaning that the endorsement of accreditation is a more enduring document of quality. This is why many programs only need accreditation renewed every few years. With accreditation such a strong signal of quality, many rankings take accreditation from a reputable agency into account when making their evaluations.
MBA students face challenges on the road to job placement and entrepreneurship, making it critical that an education be both academically sound and internationally reputable. The Maryville University online MBA program is accredited by ACBSP, as well as regionally accredited by the NCA Higher Learning Commission.
With the backing of these internationally recognized accreditations, an MBA from Maryville University can be a powerful tool.