When we talk about accreditation for higher education, we’re talking about two things. The purpose of accreditation is to have an unbiased, outside party that can objectively assess whether colleges and universities are providing the education they claim to provide, and it’s a major undertaking for institutions to meet all of the assessment standards for the most reputable accreditation bodies. Those standards include educational quality, financial security, student services, and much more.
In the US, the highest form of accreditation for a full college or university is regional accreditation. Yes, the name is somewhat misleading, because regional accreditation is recognized nationally. There are seven regions in the US, all of which are part of the national Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions, which is recognized by the US Department of Education as the standard in accreditation. No regional accreditation, no federal financial aid.
How is Business School Accreditation Different?
Alongside regional accreditation, there are numerous accreditation boards that are discipline-specific – accreditation for nursing, journalism, law, and business, for instance. Schools and colleges of business are required to go through intensive, rigorous self-assessment of their institutional goals and outcomes, producing a report to prove that they are meeting the requirements they set for themselves within the parameters of the accreditation body.
Many business schools will seek the extra layer of accreditation to help stand out from other business schools, and there are three that are recognized as authoritative. In fact, all of the Business rankings we conduct here at Value Colleges – such as Top 50 Best Value Master’s in Management Programs or Top 50 Online MBA Programs, all include institutions recognized by at least one of these accrediting organizations.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is the most prestigious and hardest to obtain; less than 5% of business schools worldwide are able to meet the exacting standards of the AACSB. AACSB accreditation is based on high performance in both research and teaching, leaving only the most accomplished research institutions in the running. Graduates from an AACSB-accredited school can expect to be candidates for the most competitive and elite jobs in their field.
One drawback for smaller, teaching-centered schools is that research is a major component of AACSB accreditation, leaving out schools that do not prioritize research. The Accreditation Council for business schools and Programs (ACBSP) was created as an alternative that focuses more on teaching and student support, giving institutions that do not have a strong research orientation a way of earning accreditation and demonstrating excellence. ACBSP accreditation is not less authoritative; it merely represents a difference in area of emphasis, from research to teaching.
The International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education is the newest of the accreditation boards, having been formed in 1997 as an alternative accreditation form. Rather than the more traditional models of the AACSB and ACBSP, the IACBE is intended to provide more flexibility and outcomes-driven assessment – meaning that an IACBE-accredited school gets the job done, but maybe not in a conventional way. The IACBE is newer and not as recognized by employers, but it has been a boon to smaller colleges and business-only schools that cannot attain the other forms of accreditation because of size or resources.