Answer: Online master’s in accounting programs can receive accreditation from one of three independent organizations that accredit business schools and business and accounting programs: the Association for Advancing Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International); the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP); and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE). These three organizations provide programmatic accreditation to various types of business programs, including specialized accreditation to Master of Accountancy programs, Master of Science in Accounting programs, and Master of Taxation programs.
There are two types of accreditation that students interested in earning a master’s degree in accounting should be aware of: institutional accreditation and programmatic accreditation.
Institutional accreditation for schools that offer bachelor’s and graduate degree programs is administered by six regional bodies charged with assuring that colleges and universities within their purview meet or exceed various criteria for institutional integrity and quality. This type of accreditation is granted to the educational entity (i.e., the college or university) rather than a particular program or set of programs that may be offered by the school. The six regional organizations that accredit colleges and universities that may offer master’s in accounting degree programs are as follows:
Programmatic accreditation is a separate and distinct process. It involves the assessment of academic programs offered in a particular field or fields, such as business, healthcare, nursing, and social work. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a non-governmental organization that coordinates and oversees accreditation for higher education in the US, recognizes 49 programmatic accreditation organizations, including two of the three organizations that accredit master’s in accounting programs: the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE). The Association for Advancing Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), which is the oldest accreditation organization for business schools and for business and accounting programs at the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels, was formally recognized by CHEA prior to 2016, at which time AACSB International chose to withdraw from CHEA.
Online master’s in accounting programs may voluntarily apply for programmatic accreditation from the ACBSP, IACBE, or AACSB International. All three organizations have a formal accreditation process for academic programs in accounting, including online master’s in accounting programs. Programmatic accreditation from these organizations serves as one means of assuring that master’s in accounting programs have the academic personnel and instructional resources to offer training in the professional practice of accountancy. More information on the accreditation process and accreditation standards for degree programs in accounting is available directly from the ACBSP, IACBE, and AACSB International through the following links:
Programmatic accreditation from the ACBSP, IACBE, or AACSB International coupled with institutional accreditation for the college or university offering a graduate program in accounting indicates that an online master’s in accounting program and the school offering the program have undergone formal assessment processes designed to ensure the quality and integrity of the institution and the program. Earning a degree through an accredited program offered by a regionally accredited school may be advantageous on the job market and for the purposes of licensure and certification in certain fields, such as accounting.
It is, however, important to note that institutional and programmatic accreditations do not guarantee that an accounting program will prepare students for licensure and/or certification. The licensure and certification process for accountants is overseen by state boards of accountancy in conjunction with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), which administers the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination (CPA exam). Accountants who have a minimum of 150 hours of qualifying professional experience and who meet the educational training requirements set by their state’s board of accountancy become eligible to sit for the CPA exam. Candidates who receive a passing score on the CPA exam may then be licensed by their state.
Earning an online master’s in accounting degree from a program accredited by the ACBSP, IACBE, or AACSB International is one way to work toward qualifying for CPA licensure. However, programmatic accreditation is not dependent upon whether or not a master’s program offers a curriculum that ensures graduates will be eligible for CPA licensure. While the accreditation criteria established ACBSP, IACBE, and AACSB International provide general guidelines for master’s level training in accounting, these guidelines may differ from state licensure eligibility requirements.
The AICPA and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) do not endorse or accredit accounting degree programs, but both organizations provide various resources for students and educators in the field of accounting. Students who are considering earning a master’s in accounting degree online may want to consult the AICPA’s Pre-Certification Core Competency Framework and/or the several model curricula the AICPA has published, including their Model Tax Curriculum, Model Forensic Accounting Curriculum, and Model Financial Planning Curriculum. There are also a number of NASBA resources available to those who may be seeking CPA licensure, including a How to Get Licensed guide and links to state boards of accountancy.