When looking for an MBA program, one of the first things to consider is whether or not the program is accredited.
In short, accreditation is a way to make sure that colleges and universities meet certain standards in the educational programs they deliver to students. Think of it as a means of educational quality control.
Since today’s job market is extremely competitive – especially for careers in business – you’ll need every advantage you can get. Working towards an MBA is certainly a start because having a master’s degree makes you a more attractive job applicant. But getting an MBA from an accredited institution is an even better option. That’s because accredited schools and MBA programs are more highly regarded in the business world.
The process of accrediting colleges, universities, and MBA programs is independent. As you’ll learn below, accrediting agencies are not part of state or federal governments. Instead, they are non-profit organizations over which the U.S. Department of Education has oversight.
While each accrediting agency is independent from one another – and develops separate accreditation standards – the common thread between them is that they are dedicated to ensuring that students get a good education.
The question is, how are MBA programs accredited, and by whom?
Why is Accreditation Important?
Accreditation is much more than a set of guidelines that institutions of higher education must meet.
Instead, accreditation for MBA programs governs everything from the resources available to students to the quality of teaching that’s occurring in classrooms. Likewise, accrediting bodies look at the type of coursework that’s being assigned, evaluate facilities on campus, and judge the quality of student services on campus. In other words, it is a detailed and comprehensive look at institutions of higher learning.
These evaluations are done by experienced teams of educators. In most cases, accreditors include current and retired professors and administrators from other colleges and universities. This is beneficial for accreditation purposes because people that have higher education experience understand what is needed to provide the best learning environment for students.
Speaking of students, what benefits do they derive from accreditation?
First, many professions that require licensure (i.e., Certified Public Accountant) also require that a student’s degree is from an accredited institution. What’s more, in some cases, licensure requires that the applicant’s degree program is also accredited.
Second, students seeking federal financial aid must attend a college or university that is accredited. This opens up many more avenues for financing one’s education.
Third, accreditation is an indication of a quality education. For example, accredited MBA programs must meet high standards to obtain accreditation. They must also undergo frequent review to retain the accreditation. This results in program development that is both comprehensive in nature and meets rigorous standards of quality.
Lastly, many employers prefer their employees to have degrees from accredited institutions. In a very real sense, whether the school you attended is accredited or not could mean the difference between you getting a job or getting passed over for a job.
Likewise, an MBA program that is accredited is recognized around the globe. If your career goal is to take your business expertise to an international location, having a degree from an accredited MBA program will make that goal much more likely to achieve.
It’s important to note that accreditation also helps you determine what schools are worthy of your time and money. Unfortunately, there are some schools that are little more than degree mills. Many others are nothing but scams and seek to bilk you out of your hard-earned money rather than providing you with a quality education.
By selecting a school that is accredited, you will avoid these problems and can rest assured that you will receive a high-quality education.
How are MBA Programs Accredited?
The United States takes a unique approach to accreditation.
In other nations, institutions of higher education are accredited by an educational agency of the government. However, the Department of Education in the United States does not provide accreditation for colleges and universities.
Instead, the accreditation process is done by various accrediting bodies throughout the country. These accreditors are independent from the Department of Education, but their recommendations for accreditation are recognized by the Department of Education.
The middleman between accrediting agencies and the Department of Education is the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI). The purpose of NACIQI is to counsel the Department of Education on the accrediting bodies that the Department should recognize.
Additionally, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) works with the Department of Education to monitor each accrediting agency. The Department of Education takes responsibility for oversight at the federal level and approves accrediting agencies to operate. The Department of Education is also in charge of a database that lists all accredited institutions.
CHEA, on the other hand, is an advocacy group comprised of representatives from thousands of institutions of learning throughout the country. Their primary goal is to maintain appropriate standards for accreditation. They work closely with the Department of Education, reporting to the Department regarding accreditation matters on a regular basis.
CHEA and the Department of Education also evaluate accrediting bodies. This evaluation process is undertaken to make sure that accrediting agencies are using appropriate methods for granting accreditation. Furthermore, CHEA and the Department of Education establish standards for academics and ethics that accredited colleges and universities are encouraged to follow.
The process by which MBA programs are accredited varies depending on the type of accreditation being sought. However, one thing is common amongst many types of accreditation – it takes a long time.
For example, to gain accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), schools must take part in a years-long evaluation process. This process begins with the school’s application for accreditation.
Then, the AACSB examines the application and begins to develop a plan to align the MBA program’s standards with the AACSB’s standards. Next, the AACSB commissions a peer review team, the purpose of which is to go onsite to evaluate various aspects of the program. If a school’s MBA program is accepted, it will then bear the accreditation of the AACSB.
What are the Main Accrediting Bodies?
Most public colleges and universities in the United States are accredited by one of six regional accrediting agencies. Each of the agencies listed below is charged with reviewing accreditation for institutions of higher learning in their specific region.
Western Association of Schools and Colleges
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) serves California and Hawaii. There are two divisions, one each for senior colleges and universities (the WASC Senior College and University Commission), and another for community and junior colleges (the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges).
Northwest Accreditation Commission
Colleges and universities in the northwest portion of the United States are accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). Like other regional accrediting commissions, NWCCU accreditation is self-regulated and does not involve the participation of the Department of Education, apart from oversight.
Higher Learning Commission
Formerly known as the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is one of the largest regional accreditors in the United States. It evaluates colleges and universities in 19 states from Arizona to Ohio, Minnesota to Oklahoma. It is also one of the oldest accrediting agencies, having been established in 1895.
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Accreditation of schools in the southeastern United States is done by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). This large accreditation body seeks to make sure that students throughout the American southeast have access to quality education from each of its member institutions.
Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Colleges and universities in the mid-Atlantic region (i.e., Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Delaware) are accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). This accrediting agency places importance not just on the quality of educational programs, but on the ethical practice by educators and the integrity of the overall institution.
New England Association of Schools and Colleges
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) was established in 1885 and is responsible for oversight of member schools in the northeast portion of the U.S. The NEASC has more than 1,500 member schools, some of which are based outside the U.S. Both public and independent schools are included in its ranks.
National Accrediting Agencies
Aside from the regional accrediting bodies listed above, there are a number of national accrediting bodies – five in total that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education:
- 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
By and large, these national organizations are in charge of accrediting for-profit colleges and universities as well as vocational and trade schools.
Beware that if you take courses at a nationally-accredited college or university, the credits may not transfer to a regionally-accredited institution. Likewise, as noted earlier, many licensure exams require applicants’ degrees to have regional accreditation, not national accreditation.
The regional and national accrediting agencies listed above are responsible for institutional accreditation. In other words, their accreditors evaluate various programs at the school to determine that school’s worthiness of being accredited.
However, there is also programmatic accreditation, which takes a closer look at specific degree programs within an institution. This type of accreditation is governed by specialized accreditation bodies and is completely independent from the accreditation at the institutional level. They have highly specialized standards that are specific to the discipline being accredited.
This means that some MBA programs might have institutional accreditation as well as programmatic accreditation.
The process of obtaining programmatic accreditation involves a number of steps in which accreditors look at:
- The program’s curriculum
- Educational background and experience of faculty
- Student outcomes (i.e., graduation rates)
There are dozens of programmatic accrediting agencies. Of those, there are several accreditors for MBA programs, discussed below.
Accrediting Bodies for MBA Programs
Most MBA programs in the United States are accredited by one of three primary MBA accreditation agencies. Like the regional and national accrediting bodies explored above, these program-specific agencies strive to ensure that member institutions provide students with a quality education. The difference, of course, is that the institutions listed below work specifically with MBA programs.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) was established in 1916 and is considered by many to be the most prestigious MBA accreditor. It accepts less than five percent of MBA programs that seek its accreditation, which demonstrates its prestigious standing as one of the top accreditors of MBA programs.
The focus of the AACSB is on instruction and training for business students. As such, the AASCB’s accreditation standards include metrics for a host of competencies, including financial theory, organizational management, written and oral communication, and information technology, just to name a few. Furthermore, the AACSB is known for placing emphasis on research in business management.
Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs
The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) is a much newer accrediting agency, having been organized in 1988. As an organization, it emphasizes teaching rather than academic research. Without this research requirement, many MBA programs at non-research universities were able to become accredited.
This does not mean that ACBSP accreditation is second-rate. Instead, accreditation standards are established for many areas, including:
- Ethical practice
- Business policy
Each of the areas listed above emphasize a student-centered approach. MBA programs and their faculty are evaluated on their ability to help students gain the needed skills to become competent members of the business community.
International Accreditation Council for Business Education
IACBE prioritizes the performance of students in MBA programs. In that regard, schools with IACBE accreditation demonstrate a commitment to developing outcomes-based programs that assist students in gaining the skills needed for leadership in the world of business.
The third primary accrediting agency for MBA programs is the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE). It is the newest of the three agencies discussed here, having been formed in 1997.
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