Answer: There are three independent, non-profit organizations that accredit MBA programs in the US: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International); the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP); and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE).
Regionally accredited colleges and universities that offer MBA degree programs may apply for and receive programmatic accreditation from one or more of three different accrediting bodies. AACSB International is the oldest and most widely recognized accrediting body for MBA programs in the US and abroad. Founded in 1916, AACSB International provides accreditation to bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in business and accounting. The ACBSP is a newer organization, founded in 1989 to offer accreditation to business programs at the associate, baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels, including MBA programs.
The IACBE is the newest of the three major organizations that provide accreditation to MBA programs. The IACBE also accredits other business and business-related degree programs, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs. Each of these three accrediting bodies operate independently and set their own standards for assessing the merits and accreditation qualifications of individual MBA programs offered by regionally accredited colleges and universities.
Community colleges, four-year colleges, and universities in the US can apply for and receive institutional accreditation from one of the seven regional accrediting commissions that are officially recognized by the US Department of Education. This system of regional accreditation provides a self-regulatory mechanism among institutions of higher learning to insure that participating schools meet or exceed agreed upon minimum standards for institutional and educational integrity. Regional accreditation is conferred upon the institution itself, rather than a particular program offered by that school.
The seven regional accrediting bodies recognized by the Department of Education are:
Programmatic accreditation is a separate process for MBA programs. AACSB International, ACBSP, and IACBE assess and accredit MBA programs and other types of business programs offered by a school, department, or other academic unit within a college or university that receives institutional accreditation from a recognized regional body. The accreditation conferred by the AACSB International, ACBSP, and IACBE is attached to an institution’s school of business or the department that offers business and business-related programs rather than to the institution itself. For example, the University of Virginia (UVA) receives institutional accreditation from SACS, while the Darden School of Business at UVA has programmatic accreditation from the AACSB International.
AACSB International has been accrediting MBA and other business degree programs in the US and abroad since 1916. It is a professional organization that maintains a system for assessing the overall quality of MBA programs based on faculty qualifications, curricular goals, and overall educational mission. AACSB International’s Eligibility Procedures and Accreditation Standards for Business Accreditation sets forth a framework for instruction and training in business, which includes general proficiencies in professional writing, oral communications, and information technologies, as well as knowledge of the political, regulatory, legal, technological, and social aspects of global organizations, financial theories, organizational management, and evidence-based decision-making. While the curricular recommendations for MBA program maintained by AACSB International do not vary significantly from those maintained by other accrediting organization, AACSB International is thought to place a greater emphasis on research in the field of business management, which is typically conducted at business schools affiliated with larger research universities.
The ACBSP was formed in 1989 by an alliance of 150 schools with business programs that were not accredited by the AACSB International, and that placed a stronger emphasis on teaching over academic research. To quote from the mission statement contained within the most recent ACBSP Standards and Criteria for Demonstrating in Baccalaureate/Graduate Degree Schools and Programs, “ACBSP views research as a tool to facilitate improved teaching. Institutions are strongly encouraged to pursue a reasonable, mutually beneficial balance between teaching and research.” As a result, MBA programs offered by non-research universities left unaccredited by AACSB International were able to meet the ACBSP standards, which include a business curriculum that covers knowledge and training in accounting, finance, management, marketing, and the legal, economic, ethical, and global dimensions of business policy and strategy. Unlike AACSB International, ACBSP accredits two-year associate degree programs in business, as well as MBA programs and other master’s and doctoral programs in business.
The IACBE is the newest of the three primary organizations offering accreditation to MBA programs and other types of business programs. When it was founded in 1997, its stated goal was to provide accreditation to business programs based on criteria that prioritize a school’s mission and the performance of students within those programs. As stated formally in Mission of the IACBE, “The vision of the IACBE is to be the leader in mission-driven and outcomes-based programmatic accreditation for business and management education.” In addition to MBA degree programs, the IACBE accredits associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs in business offered by institutions that have an established bachelor’s and/or graduate degree program in business, but not to programs that only offer associate degrees. The IACBE curricular objective, as set forth in the most recent IACBE Accreditation Process Manual, is based on the following premise: “The curricula in business programs reflect the missions of the institution and its academic business unit, and are consistent with current, acceptable business practices and the expectations of professionals in the academic and business community.”
Accreditation by AACSB International, ACBSP, and/or IACBE indicates that an MBA program has voluntarily submitted to a formal process of assessment by an independent organization and that it has met or exceeded certain standards for education and training in the field of business administration. It confers credibility and may enhance the reputation of the department or school through which an MBA program is offered. It is one factor that prospective applicants should consider when researching MBA programs. It may also be a factor that certain employers take into account. AACSB International is the oldest and most widely recognized accreditation body, and older MBA programs offered by large research institutions and public universities are more likely to be accredited by AACSB International. Smaller colleges and universities are more likely to have MBA programs accredited by ACBSP and/or IACBE. There is nothing mutually exclusive about the accreditations offered by the three organizations: while each has its own philosophy and methodology for accrediting MBA programs, there is general agreement on what constitutes core training for students in an MBA program.