Business School Accreditation: How Does It Work?

Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
Updated September 5, 2023
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The best business schools hold accreditation. Whether you’re considering a bachelor’s degree in business or a master of business administration (MBA), checking the business school’s accreditation status is a good idea.

Three accrediting bodies approve business schools to accredit degree-granting programs. And business schools can decide which of these accreditations to pursue. But does a business school’s business accreditation actually matter? And if so, which business accreditor is best?

How Business School Accreditation Works

How does business school accreditation work? Like other forms of accreditation, accreditations for business schools are voluntary and given by independent nonprofit accreditors.

Business schools can choose to pursue accreditation from one of three major accreditors:

  • Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)

These three accreditors evaluate undergraduate and graduate business programs, including MBA programs. They set standards for business education, conduct site reviews, and regularly monitor accredited business schools. If accredited schools fail to meet standards, they can lose accreditation.

All three accreditors evaluate both in-person and online programs. Usually, a university’s in-person and online business programs will hold the same accreditation.

Less commonly, online programs may hold a different accreditation. For example, the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business holds accreditation from AACSB, whereas business programs offered through the UMD Global Campus hold IACBE accreditation.

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Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accredits over 950 business schools. Many of the top-ranked business schools in the world hold AACSB accreditation.

Dating back to 1916, AACSB offers business and accounting accreditation. The agency only accredits business schools that offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Because of its emphasis on thought leadership, AACSB typically accredits business schools at research-focused institutions.

AACSB’s standards for business accreditation include:

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    Strategic Management and Innovation

    AACSB reviews the school’s strategic plan, evaluating strategic initiatives, goals, and metrics for success. Business schools must also demonstrate overall financial health.
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    Learner Success

    Business schools must align their curricula and program management with the competencies required to succeed in business careers. In addition to evaluating teaching materials and extracurricular programs, AACSB measures teaching effectiveness and impact.
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    Thought Leadership, Engagement, and Societal Impact

    Does the business school make positive intellectual contributions? AACSB evaluates the school’s influence based on scholarship and societal impact.

“Earning AACSB accreditation signifies a business school’s commitment to strategic management, learner success, thought leadership, and societal impact,” AACSB explains on its website.

AACSB-Accredited Business Schools

  • Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business
  • Harvard Business School
  • Indiana University Kelley School of Business
  • Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
  • Stanford Graduate School of Business
  • University of Chicago Booth School of Business
  • University of Southern California Marshall School of Business
  • University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business
  • University of Washington Foster School of Business
  • Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs

The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) grants accreditation to 750 business schools.

Founded in 1988, ACBSP emphasizes teaching excellence and student outcomes. It was the first business accreditor to evaluate associate-level business programs.

ACBSP emphasizes student learning and teaching, which appeals to colleges and universities less focused on research.

ACBSP’s accreditation standards include:

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    Leadership and Strategic Planning

    To earn ACBSP accreditation, business schools must demonstrate a commitment to performance excellence and continuous improvement in their leadership and planning processes.
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    Student Learning Assessment

    Business schools must assess student learning outcomes regularly for each accredited program. Programs should use the assessment to improve outcomes.
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    Faculty and Teaching

    ACBSP looks at the school’s process to encourage teaching excellence, evaluate faculty members, and improve the curriculum and program delivery.

“ACBSP assesses whether or not business programs offer a rigorous educational experience and commitment to continuous quality improvement,” the accreditor explains on its website.

ACBSP-Accredited Business Schools

  • Alabama State University College of Business Administration
  • Colorado State University Global School of Management and Innovation
  • Fisk University Department of Business Administration
  • Florida A&M University School of Business and Industry
  • Liberty University School of Business
  • Southern New Hampshire University Business School

International Accreditation Council for Business Education

The International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE) accredits under 200 business schools.

Established in 1997, IACBE positions itself as a “mission-driven and outcomes-based” accreditor. The newest business accreditor, IACBE works with member institutions to improve their business education processes and practices.

IACBE’s program accreditation principles include:

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    Outcome Assessment

    Business schools must complete an outcome assessment that evaluates student learning and strategic planning. The assessment should contribute to continuous improvement in pedagogy, academic support services, and institutional operations that affect students.
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    Curriculum and Faculty

    IACBE looks at faculty qualifications, program design, and coverage of key content areas. Faculty must demonstrate “significant academic and professional preparation.” Curricula must be relevant and current as well.
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    Resources and Admission

    IACBE evaluates financial resources, facilities, learning resources, and educational support. The accreditor also states that business schools should only admit students with a reasonable chance of succeeding in the program.

According to IACBE’s website, “Academic quality and excellence in business education should be measured in terms of the educational outcomes of an academic business unit relative to its mission rather than by prescriptive standards relating to academic resources.”

IACBE-Accredited Business Schools

  • Albertus Magnus College Tagliatela School of Business and Leadership
  • Azusa Pacific University School of Business and Management
  • Franklin University Ross College of Business
  • Seton Hill University School of Business
  • University of Maryland Global Campus Department of Business Administration

AACSB vs. ACBSP Accreditation: Which Is Better?

Whereas AACSB and ACBSP grant accreditation to over 1,700 business schools, IACBE accredits fewer than 200 business schools. If you’re researching business degrees, there’s a good chance you’re looking at AACSB- and ACBSP-accredited programs.

When comparing AACSB vs. ACBSP accreditation, which is better?

Generally, top business schools hold AACSB accreditation. That means AACSB-accredited schools can be more selective. If you’re considering an MBA, for example, you might have an easier time getting accepted into an ACBSP-accredited program.

Business schools with AACSB accreditation typically place a higher emphasis on research. In comparison, ACBSP-accredited business schools emphasize teaching excellence.

ACBSP-accredited programs may also be more affordable. Since cost depends on tuition rates and financial aid, be sure to compare individual schools rather than choosing one based on accreditation.

What about IACBE accreditation? IACBE typically accredits smaller liberal arts schools and regional colleges compared to the larger research-heavy institutions that pursue AACSB accreditation.

Comparing Accredited Business Schools

So does business school accreditation matter? What about MBA accreditation?

Accredited business schools meet academic and outcome-based standards, which benefits students. Unlike fields like nursing, social work, and teaching, however, you don’t need an accredited business degree to qualify for a professional license.

Employers also tend to look at the business school itself rather than its accreditation. So while business school accreditation is important, it won’t necessarily make or break your career.

Rather than focusing on the accreditor, consider other factors that will shape your business school experience and job opportunities.

You can compare programs based on their specialization options, internship opportunities, alumni networks, reputations, and job placements. These factors will affect your education and career path far more than a business accreditor’s name.

Frequently Asked Questions About Business School Accreditation

question-mark-circleWhat is the best business school accreditation?

Of the three business school accreditors (AACSB, ACBSP, and IACBE), AACSB is the most sought-after by top-ranked business schools. The organization accredits over 950 business schools, including international institutions.

Business schools accredited by ACBSP and IACBE must also meet outcome-based standards and work toward continuous improvement.

question-mark-circleWhat’s the difference between ACBSP vs. AACSB accreditation?

Both ACBSP and AACSB accredit business schools; however, they set different standards for accreditation.

As the oldest business accreditor, AACSB emphasizes research and only accredits business schools that offer undergraduate and graduate degrees. Typically, AACSB-accredited programs are at research institutions.

ACBSP, by contrast, places greater emphasis on teaching standards. ACBSP-accredited business schools are also less likely to be at research universities.

question-mark-circleWhich accreditation is best for an MBA?

The best MBA programs typically hold accreditation from AACSB or ACBSP. Normally, MBA programs with AACSB accreditation are more competitive and rank higher in terms of prestige and reputation. As a result, it can be harder to get into an AACSB-accredited MBA program.

On the other hand, ACBSP-accredited programs can offer a more affordable route to an MBA.

When researching MBA programs, consider factors like the business school’s reputation, the total cost of the degree, and career services support.

question-mark-circleWhat happens if a business school loses accreditation?

If a business program loses accreditation, it likely won’t affect students. Business program accreditors can withdraw accreditation or place programs on probation. Fortunately, graduates do not need to attend an accredited business school to qualify for professional licensure or compete on the job market.

However, even if your business program isn’t programmatically accredited, you should still attend an accredited university, as only schools accredited by the Department of Education can award federal financial aid.

If your business program loses accreditation, it’s worth investigating why. For example, if the program’s curriculum or faculty fails to meet accreditation standards, it can indicate a problem for students.

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