Written by TopManagementDegrees.com Staff
Last Updated: October 7, 2020
Institutional accreditation tells only part of the story when it comes to researching the rigor and quality of business programs. Many business degrees also carry specialized accreditation credentials that do not apply to the scholastic institution as a whole but rather solely to the business department or program. These exclusive business degree accreditations carry significant value, as they signal compliance with elevated standards.
This guide explains every type of accreditation you may encounter as you research graduate business programs. Read on for info about national, regional, and specialized credentials, along with international accreditations that apply outside of the United States.
What Is Accreditation?
Accreditation is a standardized endorsement of educational quality bestowed upon a school, department, or program by a specially authorized third-party agency. Officially, U.S. Department of Education (ED) standards consider the accreditation process voluntary, but in practical terms, accreditation is a critical indicator of whether a school or program delivers valuable education.
Modern U.S. accreditation standards evolved after the passage of the Higher Education Act in 1965. The act gave Congress more oversight with respect to academic quality, reserving federal student aid for applicants planning to attend accredited institutions. Under current federal statutes, only the ED has the authority to recognize accrediting bodies that endorse postsecondary institutions.
Colleges and universities can hold two types of institutional accreditation: national or regional. As of 2020, the ED and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognize 12 national accrediting bodies and seven regional bodies.
As a general rule, students should consider only graduate business programs hosted at institutions accredited by a universally recognized agency.
Why Is Accreditation Important?
Attending an accredited institution ensures your degree will deliver educational value commensurate to your investment. Other important benefits of accreditation extend to:
- – Financial Aid. You must attend an accredited institution to qualify for government-backed forms of financial aid, such as student loan programs. Many private lenders also impose similar requirements.
- – Transfer Credits. In this regard, experts generally emphasize the importance of attending a school with regional rather than national accreditation. Credits from regionally accredited institutions transfer to all other schools readily, while the same is not necessarily true of those earned at nationally accredited colleges.
- – Institutional Trust. Accreditation certifies that a school meets established quality standards and delivers a rigorous instructional experience that builds knowledge and skill sets. The accreditation process also incentivizes schools to constantly improve their offerings.
- – Program Prestige. Many business school accreditation bodies maintain highly selective standards, guaranteeing the programs that meet them truly deliver an elite education.
- – Career-Building. Employers often consider whether a job applicant graduated from an accredited program when making hiring decisions. They may also look more favorably upon alumni of specially accredited programs.
However, remember that accreditation type significantly impacts the credential's value and meaning. The following section explains the different types of institutional and specialized accreditation.
MBA Accreditation Types
National accreditation is one of the two types of institutional accreditation. Graduate business students are unlikely to encounter nationally accredited schools, as institutions with regional endorsements host the vast majority of master's business degrees. In fact, statistics reported by Drexel University indicate that only about 15% of accredited colleges and universities hold nationally accreditation, and most of them maintain a core or exclusive focus on:
- – Vocational education
- – Training for skilled trades
- – Religious education
- – Private for-profit education
The ED and CHEA play supervisory roles in the national accreditation process, overseeing the 12 accrediting agencies they recognize. They also subdivide these 12 agencies into two categories: faith-related organizations and career-related organizations. Recognized faith-related accreditors include:
- – Association for Biblical Higher Education Commission on Accreditation
- – Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools Accreditation Commission
- – Association of Institutions of Jewish Studies
- – Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools
- – Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools Accreditation Commission
The ED and CHEA also recognize seven career-related accreditors:
- – Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools
- – Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
- – Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
- – Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
- – Council on Occupational Education
- – Distance Education Accrediting Commission
- – National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences, Inc.
Precise standards vary among accrediting bodies, but their respective credentialing processes are similar in many ways. Schools seeking accreditation review the desired agency's criteria, conduct thorough operational audits to assess their readiness, make any necessary adjustments, and formally apply for a membership review.
Regional accreditation typically applies to nonprofit institutions and schools that primarily or solely provide academically oriented programs, as opposed to vocational or trade training. As with national accreditation, the ED and CHEA provide oversight of the seven regional accrediting bodies they recognize.
These bodies include:
- – Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- – Higher Learning Commission
- – Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- – New England Commission of Higher Education
- – Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- – Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- – Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission
Experts generally consider regional accrediting bodies more prestigious, imposing higher standards than their national counterparts. This is a major reason why credits from regionally accredited colleges transfer more easily than those from nationally accredited schools. Thus, regional accreditation usually carries more recognition and value.
Regional credentials cover the vast majority of institution-based business degree accreditations. Overall, they also account for 85% of all accredited postsecondary schools in the United States.
|Higher Learning Commission||HLC||Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming||HLC was established in 1895 and maintains a comprehensive 10-point list of guiding values, emphasizing purposeful, student-oriented learning and the constant drive to improve. Its accreditation criteria focus on the presence of an institutional mission, scholastic integrity, strong ethical responsibility, and extensive resources for learning and support.|
|Middle States Commission on Higher Education||MSCHE||Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands||Based in Philadelphia, MSCHE uses a systematic approach to evaluate applicant institutions. Like many other regional accreditors, MSCHE prefers schools with specific, focused educational missions. MSCHE also carefully considers ethics, program design and delivery methods, student support resources, educational effectiveness metrics, self-improvement initiatives, and institutional leadership and governance.|
|New England Commission of Higher Education||NECHE||Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont||NECHE accredits both U.S. and international institutions. Half of the eight traditional Ivy League schools hold NECHE accreditation, and institutions must meet a rigorous set of 20 criteria to earn the commission's prestigious endorsement.|
|Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities||NWCCU||Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington||Founded in 1917 and recognized by the ED since 1952, NWCCU endorses 162 member schools. Its evaluatory body includes up to 26 officials selected to reflect the diversity of the seven states in which the organization operates. NWCCU also accredits international schools, including numerous institutions in Canada.|
|Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges||SACSCOC||Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia||SACSCOC uses six key values to guide its accreditation decisions, carefully assessing candidate schools for ethics and integrity, peer review standards, student learning outcomes, internal improvement initiatives, transparency, and accountability. Founded in 1895, SACSCOC counts among the oldest continuously operating regional accreditors in the United States.|
|Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission||WSCUC||California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Palau, Micronesia, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands||In addition to senior colleges and universities, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges endorses junior colleges, community colleges, K-12 schools, and non-degree-granting schools in its area of operation. It is one of only two bodies that accredits institutions located in overseas territories of the United States.|
Business School Accreditation Organizations
A third type of accreditation also applies to some graduate business programs: specialized accreditation, also known as programmatic accreditation. Unlike national and regional credentials, specialized and programmatic endorsements do not apply to the entire institution. Rather, their scope is limited to specific departments, degree paths, or programs.
As with institutional accreditation, specialized accreditation is entirely voluntary. However, business school accreditation organizations generally maintain demanding standards, ensuring that any program earning their endorsement offers excellent educational value. Specialized business degree accreditations also lead to broader professional networks, as graduates often qualify for membership in exclusive organizations that host special events, career-building opportunities, and other professional development programs.
Business school and MBA accreditation types include credentials bestowed by three main organizations: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), and the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE).
Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
One of the most prestigious business accrediting agencies in the world is AACSB International, established in 1916. Because it features a rigorous application and evaluation process, less than 5% of business schools have achieved this level of business accreditation. To retain this high level of accreditation, "all AACSB-accredited institutions must enter the continuous improvement review process every five years." The AACSB values large land-grant institutions and schools known for extensive research programs.
Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs
Another highly respected accrediting body is the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. Founded in 1992, ACBSP "focuses on recognizing teaching excellence, determining student learning outcomes, and a continuous improvement model. ACBSP's student-centered teaching and learning approach, which is measured and analyzed for quality, ensures that students gain the right skills from their educational investment." Featuring headquarters in both the United States and Europe, the ACBSP focuses on business schools across the globe.
International Accreditation Council for Business Education
With a membership of more than 2,000 accounting and business programs throughout the world, the International Accreditation Council for Business Education launched in 1997 and has been recognized by CHEA since 2011.
IACBE delivers what it describes as "mission-driven accreditation," guided by a belief that "academic quality and excellence in business education should be measured in terms of the educational outcomes of an academic business unit." The agency prioritizes quantitative metrics reflecting the results-oriented philosophy that permeates the business world.
Accreditation Outside the U.S.
Some institutional accrediting bodies based in the United States endorse schools in other countries. Similarly, many other countries maintain institutional review and endorsement procedures similar to the accreditation system familiar to U.S. students. However, American students considering graduate business programs often have questions about the standards to which international schools are held.
CHEA's International Quality Group (CIQG) can help in this regard. Recognizing the increasing international mobility of the global student population, the CIQG works to establish and promote educational quality standards that reach beyond borders. A CIQG endorsement is a strong starting point for students seeking international learning opportunities.
Specialized business school accreditation bodies also endorse international programs, and their credentials are a vital form of quality assurance. Credits earned at programmatically accredited business schools readily transfer back to the United States, and graduates of these programs also find that employers universally recognize their degrees' value.
Find Accredited Business Schools
Learners should consider only business schools at institutions holding the proper accreditation. Regional accreditation applies to the vast majority of reputable graduate business programs, and programmatic endorsements from internationally recognized agencies also offer considerable value.
However, keep in mind that many excellent business programs do not hold specialized accreditation. It often makes more sense to consider programmatic accreditation as a bonus rather than a core requirement, particularly if you plan to study in the United States.
Before preparing an application, candidates should take a moment to confirm the school's current accreditation standing. Institutions sometimes misrepresent their credentials, and the ED's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs can help applicants avoid a costly misstep. The links below also connect exclusively to accredited business schools and programs.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is accreditation important for an MBA?
Accreditation is vitally important to students planning to pursue an MBA. They should only consider enrolling at a business school with current and valid institutional accreditation. Programmatic accreditations offer further value.
Are online business schools accredited?
Institutional accreditation extends to online programs, so those who plan to pursue an online graduate business degree offered by an accredited school are covered. Take extra time to research schools that exclusively offer online education and confirm their accreditation status with the ED or CHEA before applying.
What are the types of accreditation?
Two types of accreditation apply to U.S. higher learning institutions: national and regional. Regional accreditation applies to graduate business programs much more often than national accreditation. A third type of endorsement, specialized or programmatic accreditation, can also apply to business degrees.
Which accreditation is better: AACSB or ACBSP?
AACSB has a longer history and a higher profile, and some experts believe it holds business schools to higher standards. However, ACBSP also offers considerable prestige and value, focusing more closely on program quality. AACSB primarily evaluates original scholarly research performed by program faculty.
What is the best business school accreditation?
Of the business program and MBA accreditation types, many observers consider AACSB the most prestigious. However, ACBSP and IACBE both command high levels of respect. The three organizations also differ in their focuses, which makes value judgments subjective.