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AACSB Accredited MBA: Pros & Cons

I’m looking for an online MBA (Master of Business Administration). I’ve found several that fit my budget but none of these are from AACSB accredited schools. I know the AACSB is considered the “gold-standard” of MBA accreditation. But, do I really need to spend the extra money to get an AACSB accredited MBA?    Roberta

The simple answer is: it depends on your goals. If you are working in one of the top fields in a major city, and you want to compete at the executive level, you will likely have more success if you get your degree from not just an AACSB accredited MBA program, but one of the top tier programs. Similarly, if you want to teach business at the university level, an AACSB accredited program is the way to go.

But if your goal is to advance your career in management in a less competitive industry than finance, especially in a smaller city, you probably don’t need to worry as much about whether or not the program you choose is AACSB accredited. Your goal should be a solid education in the area or business that interests you from a reputable and well-regarded school—regardless of the accreditation it carries.

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Why Does Accreditation Matter?

Any institution of higher education that you attend should have accreditation. It is the quality assurance for your educational program. Accreditation is the outside oversight that ensures that a school you enroll in will have good business practices and a solid curriculum. If a school is not accredited, you should be very cautious. Accreditation organizations save you time and money by weeding out low-quality educational programs or flat out scams.

There are accreditation organizations for many different types of institutions and programs. Institutional accreditation looks at the overall educational institution rather than individual departments or programs. For universities and college, there are regional or national organizations that issue accreditations. Regional agencies oversee more broad-based liberal arts education and is usually what institutions that offer graduate degrees like the MBA will have. National accreditation focuses more on vocational, technical and career training, and is often held by for-profit educational institutions.

Within the universities, each type of degree or subject will also have a programmatic accreditation organization. This makes sense, as the programmatic accreditation is more specific to the exact needs for education in the field. You want business educators examining business schools, engineers evaluating engineering programs, nursing educators assessing nursing programs, and so on. Accrediting organizations themselves are overseen by the US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Accreditation assures you, the student, that an outside board of evaluators has looked at the curriculum, faculty, finances, policies, and student outcomes at a particular program. These evaluators will not approve a school that has serious problems in any one of these areas. As a prospective student, you don’t have time or expertise to look at the details of the programs you are considering. An accrediting body will do all of that for you.

What is AACSB Accreditation?

The AACSB is the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International. It is a voluntary, non-governmental accrediting agency that oversees the standardization of collegiate schools of business and accounting nationwide.

The AACSB has served as the academic watchdog of university business programs since 1916. Because of its longevity, many venerable Ivy League business schools are accredited by the AACSB. Stanford University, Yale University and Duke University, for example, all operate AACSB accredited business schools. (Of these, Duke University offers a distance-learning, low-residency MBA.)

Among academics and corporate headhunters, the AACSB is considered the gold standard of business school accreditation. Only about 30 percent of business schools in the USA carry AACSB accreditation.

What Types Of Accreditation Are There For MBA Programs?

The MBA program you choose should be accredited by one of the specialized organizations that uphold standards in business education. Though it does not need to be AACSB accreditation, there are two other reputable organizations that also accredit MBA programs.

The International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE) was recognized in 2011 by the CHEA. The IACBE focusses more on educational outcomes of the program, based on the institution’s mission. There are over 140 US colleges and universities with business programs accredited by the IACBE, plus many more in countries all around the world.

Another international organization is the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), which boasts over 1,200 members in over 60 countries worldwide, including the United States. The ACBSP not only encourages excellence, but also recognizes the role of scholarly study to improve business education. It is also recognized by the CHEA. View the top 33 ACBSP business schools.

Along with the AACSB, the IACBE and the ACBSP make up the three main accrediting agencies for MBA programs. View the cheapest online MBA options by accreditation. All look for excellence in teaching, leadership, planning, educational support, institutional soundness, and evidence of continual quality improvement. Programs are re-assessed on a regular basis to ensure that the standards of excellence continue to be met by each program. If you feel comfortable forgoing AACSB accreditation, view the cheapest non-AACSB MBA programs.

If your career goal is to become faculty at a business school, definitely consider an AACSB accredited MBA or business degree.

Outside of academia, this specialized accreditation is less crucial—unless you intend to compete at the executive level, especially in the Fortune 500 arena.

Recently, Intel Corporation made news by announcing that its corporate tuition program will only reimburse for business degrees earned at AACSB accredited degree programs, regardless of whether the degree is delivered face-to-face or online.

A business degree or MBA emblazoned with the AACSB brand will be extremely valuable in opening doors in any competitive corporate environment. It is true that graduates of the very top tier business schools do make higher salaries than students who go to lesser-known schools, on average.

But an MBA, no matter what accreditation it carries, has shown to be a very valuable asset to people in all industries, with the increase in post-MBA salaries of 50% to 252% over the person’s former salary.

Universities do not need AACSB business school accreditation to offer the MBA or any other advanced business program, whether online or on-campus.

According to’s National Ranking Survey of Online MBAs, the majority of regionally-accredited universities that offer distance MBAs—more than 70 percent—do not follow the standards of the AACSB.

AACSB approval is not an absolute guarantee of quality. In fact, if an online business school has not pledged to follow AACSB standards it may gain the ability to offer a more innovative program of study.

Some online business schools shun AACSB accreditation because they seek the flexibility to develop more real-life curriculum, as well as the flexibility to admit an older, more career-savvy body of adult learners.

With slightly different missions, the ACBSP and the IACBE provide more options for programs to shape their MBA programs to the demands of today’s fast-changing business world.

GetEducated’s National Survey of Online MBAs reveals that AACSB accredited distance MBAs cost significantly more than their regionally-accredited counterparts.

Average cost of an AACSB Online MBA: $33,000.

View the cheapest online AACSB MBA programs.

Average cost of a regionally accredited distance MBA, on the other hand, is only $28,000.

That’s a whopping savings of $12,348.

If your budget is tight, skipping AACSB accreditation on your online MBA can save you a bundle.

View the cheapest regionally accredited online MBA programs.

Just because you choose a school that doesn’t carry the AACSB logo doesn’t mean your program won’t be accredited. Both IACBE and ACBSP accredited schools have gone through rigorous examination to make sure their programs meet the highest quality standards in education.

If you’re looking for easy admission to business school, don’t look to AACSB accredited options. AACSB accredited business schools almost always maintain higher admission standards than their counterparts.

Most require the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) for admission. There are, however, many schools that will waive admission exams for certain applicants.

AACSB accredited MBA programs will also typically require a higher undergraduate GPA. Many require applicants to hold formal bachelor’s degrees in business administration.

Academic grades do not always equate to success in the business world. If your GPA or test scores are on the lower side, you will still be a perfect candidate for many MBA programs. Contact your dream school to learn about your options.

Five most likely reasons you’d be willing to pay more for the AACSB mark on your online business degree:

  • You’re competing in an aggressive career field in an urban environment—for example, becoming a Wall Street broker in Manhattan
  • Academic prestige is very important to you
  • You intend to join the faculty of a business college
  • Your corporate tuition plan will only pay for an AACSB-accredited business degree
  • You don’t mind taking the GRE or GMAT—and are confident you can score above average on both

Five most likely reasons you’d be willing to forgo AACSB accredited business degree:

  • Money is tight
  • You’re not competing in an aggressive career field in an urban environment
  • Academic prestige is not all that important to you
  • You don’t intend to join the faculty of a business school
  • You want to avoid taking the GRE or GMAT

What’s the Difference Between MBA programs?

Each accrediting agency has slightly different, but still very demanding requirements for MBA programs to meet. However, as a student, you may be hard pressed to notice much of a difference in the education you get at schools with different accreditation.

All programs that you will be considering should be accredited by one of the main organizations, as well as carry institutional accreditation. Every program will have courses in business basics, some specialties like accounting or hospitality, and all will expect serious work from their students. At an AACSB program, there may be more focus on research. An ACBSP accredited program may have a bit more emphasis on teaching over research. An IACBE MBA program may be slightly more focused on real-world outcomes of their students. However, all of the accredited schools will have these elements present in their curricula.

Because the AACSB has been around longer, it has more name recognition in business. And employers, especially in Fortune 500 companies, may prefer to hire from AACSB programs. But most companies do not have hard and fast rules about where employees have received their education. So individual achievement in business, evidence of committed study of business subjects, and the personal history of the applicant all play important roles in hiring decisions.

In fact, of the 100 top-performing CEOs ranked by the Harvard Business Review, only 32 of them even have an MBA. It just goes to show you that your success doesn’t rest on where you went to school, or even if you got a graduate business degree. This is not to say that having an MBA is not a great asset to many in their careers, but that each person’s path is unique. Remember, on average, an MBA is a huge boost to graduates’ salaries. If you choose the school that is right for your goals, your schedule, and your wallet, you can still achieve great things in the business world. Your MBA may help you along the road, but it is not a make or break decision if you choose a non-AACSB accredited school.

How Do Schools Become Accredited?

For any of the accrediting organizations, schools go through very similar steps to become accredited. This process involves both self-evaluation and peer-review by outside examiners and can take from two to five years to complete. Accreditation needs to be renewed every few years, so each program can’t go too long a time without being assessed for quality and performance in business education.

First, the business school will become a member of the accrediting organization, then apply for candidacy. If they are accepted, the school then begins an exhaustive self-study to identify program strengths and weaknesses. The candidate program will also assess how well they adhere to the principles and requirements of the accrediting organization. Often, an outside mentor from a different school may be assigned to help guide the school through this process of self-evaluation.

Separately, a site visit by outside peer reviewers who are also business educators will be arranged. The final self-study and report from the peer reviewers will be considered by the board and staff of the accrediting agency to decide whether the school meets the requirements and will receive accreditation.

As you can see, this is a long and complicated process that the schools are required to go through. Why would they put themselves through all this hassle? To be a well-regarded business school and offer a valuable MBA education, the programs need accreditation. The process also can help them clarify their institutions goals and strengths, the areas where they can improve, and to catch up to educational best-practices with consultation by outside reviewers. Since all the schools are supposed to be seeking continuous quality improvement, this process becomes a part of the culture of the business school. In fact, continuous quality improvement (CQI) is a management philosophy used by many companies and organizations, from healthcare to manufacturing, so the fact that business schools must practice one of the principles they teach is only fitting.

Aside from the complex process of becoming accredited, the school needs to pay the organization that accredits them. AACSB is the most expensive of the three, and according to a study published in the journal Business Education and Accreditation, public and research institutions are more likely to have the AACSB accreditation. The AACSB accredited programs are the ones with the most resources, the highest revenue, the highest paid professors, and the largest groups of faculty, staff, and students. Private schools, which tend to be small and medium-sized, are most often IACBE or ACBSP accredited. What this tells us is that richer, more expensive schools are likely to be AACSB schools. Does this mean that they are better in every measure than other accredited business schools? You can consider this question yourself. Larger schools are not for everyone, and indeed, many students prefer smaller programs where they don’t feel lost in the crowd. Sometimes, it is just nicer to be a big fish in the right small pond.

Making Your Choice For MBA Education

Now you are equipped with a lot more knowledge about the types of MBA programs out there. You understand the basic process for accreditation, and why certain schools might choose one type of accreditation over another. The decision about whether you need to attend an AACSB program or not is a decision only you can make. No matter what you choose, there are schools with higher and lower tuition costs, faster or slower progression to the MBA, online or on-campus options, and different logos for accreditation. You may find an AACSB program that is cheaper than a non-AACSB program you are considering. Just like each student is an individual, each program will have different aspects that you want to consider. Just like any competent business-person, you need to do your research before you make the decision to invest your time and money in an MBA. With so many choices, you just might find the perfect school to supercharge your career.

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