MBA Accreditation

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Graduate business students should consider only accredited MBA programs. This resource explains what accreditation is, why it matters, and how schools and programs earn it. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Accreditation is an independent evaluation process that recognizes colleges and universities for meeting rigorous academic standards. Institutions of higher learning voluntarily pursue accreditation to show off their quality and attract future students.

But accreditation also serves the public interest, ensuring that students receive a quality education, leading them to the highest paying MBA jobs. With more than six thousand colleges and universities in the United States as of 2020, accreditation also helps students and employers determine the value of a particular degree.

In order to gain accreditation, institutions of higher learning must demonstrate their academic quality to an independent accrediting agency. This practice dates back to the late 1800s to early 1900s, when the first regional accrediting agencies formed to create high educational standards and monitor admissions procedures.

Since then, accrediting agencies have developed rigorous standards that colleges and universities must meet to earn accreditation. While accrediting agencies operate independently, the government regulates the process. In 1965, Congress passed the Higher Education Act, which authorizes the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to oversee accrediting agencies.

In 2019, the ED dissolved regional accreditation by allowing the accreditors to compete in each other's territories. Now, instead of regional accreditors, there are institutional accreditors. Institutional accreditors evaluate the school as a whole. Schools' program-level fitness and rigor may receive additional recognition from programmatic accrediting agencies. These agencies are private nonprofits regulated by federal law.

Each independent accrediting agency develops their own criteria. These standards may include an institution's educational quality, financial stability, and ethical principles. Accreditors often look at student learning outcomes: retention, assessment of certain skills, graduate placement records, and student satisfaction.

Once an institution earns accreditation, it must undergo a regular periodic review process in order to maintain its accredited status. According to one accrediting agency, graduates from accredited MBA programs are better prepared to compete for top positions on the job market.

Accreditation is one of the best and easiest ways for students and employers to evaluate a school's educational quality. Colleges and universities always list their accreditations on their websites, and accrediting agencies provide lists of approved institutions.

Earning accreditation takes around three years from when the school applies. It is possible an employer might find a candidate's school just recently earned accreditation, or is still in the process of earning it.

Students wishing to apply to an unaccredited institution should note that accredited schools will likely not accept transfer credits from unaccredited schools, and financial aid packages might depend on attendance at an accredited school.

MBA Accreditation Quick Facts

There are over 6,000 degree-granting institutions in the U.S. (source)

There are three main types of accreditation: national, institutional, and programmatic. (source)

The federal government requires colleges and universities to hold accreditation in order to get federal aid and grants. (source)

Some employers give tuition reimbursement if employees attend an accredited college or university. (source)

Sources: CHEA, NCES

Why is MBA Accreditation Important?

  • An indicator of a quality education
    Accreditation is one of the strongest guarantees that a program provides a quality education. The high standards of MBA-accrediting agencies and their frequent review of accredited programs ensure that accredited online MBA programs are academically rigorous and comprehensive.
  • High-quality faculty
    Accrediting agencies meticulously evaluate the faculty at MBA-granting institutions to ensure that they meet teaching standards and contribute research. Accredited institutions also attract and retain high-quality faculty members.
  • Symbol of high-quality reputation to employers
    Prospective employers often evaluate the reputation of MBA programs by looking at accreditation. MBA accreditation provides an external guarantee that the degree-holder received a high quality education. Many agencies recommend that graduates include the accrediting institution's name on their resumes.
  • Help narrow your search
    Accreditation can help prospective MBA students narrow their list of potential programs. All quality MBA programs hold some form of accreditation, but restricting a search to online MBA programs accredited by the AACSB, for example, will eliminate less competitive programs.
  • Allows the school to be internationally recognized
    All three business accrediting agencies have an international presence, and grant accreditation to programs in the U.S. and abroad. Accreditation is a globally recognized standard of excellence, which may prove beneficial for students planning careers in international business.
  • Can help you get financial aid
    MBA tuition costs can be intimidating, but accreditation helps there, too. The federal government uses an institution's accreditation status to determine if its students are eligible for financial aid, so attending an accredited MBA program may help you pay for your degree. Similarly, most employer tuition reimbursement programs apply exclusively to accredited MBA programs.
  • Allows for transfer credits
    Many online MBA programs accept transfer credits earned at other institutions but typically only from accredited programs. As a measure of academic excellence, accreditation presents an easy way for institutions to determine the value of your transfer credits.
  • Avoid diploma mills
    Avoid diploma mills and other scams as you research schools and programs. The best accredited online MBA programs list their accreditations on their website, so if you have trouble determining whether a program is accredited, avoid that program.

Types of Accreditation

National Accreditation

National accreditation is regulated by the Department of Education (ED). Today, national accreditation agencies often focus on evaluating career, vocational, and trade schools.

In most cases, national accreditation is not as prestigious as institutional accreditation. Credits earned at a nationally accredited institution may not transfer to an institutionally accredited one, and degrees from nationally accredited institutions may not meet the requirements for certain professions that require licensing.

The ED recognizes several national accrediting agencies, including the Distance Education & Training Council (DETC), the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools (ACICS), and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).

Institutional Accreditation

Prior to 2019, there were six different geographical accreditation regions in the United States. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, for example, once acted as a regional accrediting agency for the southern states, while the Higher Learning Commission once covered central states from Arizona to West Virginia.

Now that these agencies can compete in each other's region, regional accreditation the ED dissolved regional accreditation, replacing it with institutional accreditation. Same accrediting bodies, different label.

Institutionally accredited schools meet the most rigorous standards of academic excellence. Credits and degrees earned at institutionally accredited schools are more likely to transfer, and to qualify for corporate tuition reimbursement programs.

Some accredited online MBA programs, for example, will admit only students who hold a bachelor's degree from an institutionally accredited school. The top colleges and universities hold institutional accreditation from one of these:

  • MSA: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • NEASC: New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • NCA: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • NAC: Northwest Accreditation Commission
  • SACS: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • WASC: Western Association of Schools and Colleges

Specialized and Programmatic Accreditation

Specialized and programmatic accreditation evaluates particular schools or departments within a broader institution of higher learning. For example, a university's business school may hold programmatic accreditation in addition to the institutional accreditation the university holds.

To receive specialized accreditation, the agency evaluates a program's curriculum, the faculty's qualifications, student outcomes, and several other factors. Because programmatic accrediting agencies specialize in evaluating certain departments, their standards are often specific to that field or discipline.

There are three top accrediting agencies for MBA programs: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), and the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE).

The Five Levels of the Accreditation Process

The Accreditation Process
Accreditation Level Process

Level 1: Self-Study

Institutions prepare for the self-study phase by identifying the agency from which they will seek accreditation. School officials then perform a thorough self-assessment, evaluating the institution's performance against that agency's published standards.

For programmatic endorsements like an accredited MBA, departmental administrators conduct a limited self-study on the program in question.

Level 2: Peer Review

The peer review phase begins if the results of the self-study lead the school or program to believe it meets the necessary standards.

Upon reaching that benchmark, school administrators, faculty members, and other institutional stakeholders conduct an internal accreditation review. This review functions as a kind of preparatory rehearsal for the official site visit (Level 3).

Level 3: Site Visit

The school or program seeking accreditation invites representatives from the accrediting agency for an official visit. Agency representatives may include a small group or team, who usually conduct the site visit on a volunteer basis.

During the site visit, accrediting agency representatives perform an investigation to determine whether the school or program meets its standards.

Level 4: Action of Accrediting Organization

The accrediting organization reviews the site visit findings and deliberates on whether to grant or deny the accreditation request. The specifics of the review process varies among accrediting agencies.

In many cases, the team that conducted the site visit makes a recommendation to the accrediting agency's commissioning body. The commissioning body then issues a final decision.

Level 5: Monitoring and Oversight

If the accrediting application was successful, the school or program becomes accredited. Accreditation involves a recertification process, in which the school or program must display a continued commitment to high standards to retain its accreditation standing.

Recertification cycles vary among agencies, but range from a few years to a decade in length. Additional site visits are usually required to maintain accreditation standing.

Source: CHEA

Who Monitors Accrediting Agencies?

The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) monitor accrediting agencies.

The ED oversees education at the federal level, including private accreditation-granting educational associations. The ED approves accrediting agencies and maintains a database of accredited schools.

CHEA, a national advocate group, is made up of representatives from 3,000 colleges and universities, including a board of college and university presidents. CHEA works closely with the federal government to maintain accreditation standards, and reports on accreditation to the ED and Congress.

The ED and CHEA both evaluate accrediting organizations, including MBA accrediting agencies, to ensure they properly carry out the accreditation process.

This includes validating accrediting agencies, monitoring their processes, and promoting high academic and ethical standards. Together, the ED and CHEA use oversight and advocacy to ensure that American colleges and universities meet standards of excellence. The ED and CHEA also maintain a list of all accredited business schools.

Insights From a College Advisor

Why is accreditation important when looking at a graduate school?

Accreditation is important when looking at graduate school because it helps to evaluate a school or program’s credibility and quality of education. When schools or programs become accredited it means they have taken the voluntary step to ensure their institution meets high-caliber standards.

Accreditation is also important when it comes to students' access to financial aid, and the ease with which they are able to transfer to another institution.

A student cannot receive federal financial aid if they are not enrolled at an accredited institution. Furthermore, if a student decides to transfer to another school, credits will likely not transfer if they are coming from a nonaccredited institution.

A great starting point . . . is to first identify if their schools or programs are accredited and if so, by what agencies. And if they are accredited, the institution or program’s website typically provides further information about what that status means.

Why is program accreditation important for students when deciding on which MBA program to choose?

When students are researching which MBA programs they might want to pursue, they will first want to ensure the school or university offering the MBA programs is accredited. After that, they will want to research the school’s MBA program to confirm it is accredited as well.

Program accreditation is important because it indicates that the student will receive a high-quality education that will ideally set them up for successful career prospects in the future. Accreditation can also be important when it comes to the job search process after graduation, because employers will often look at the reputation of MBA programs by looking at their accreditation status.

How can students find out if their MBA program or school is accredited?

If a school or program is accredited, they will have the accreditation information posted on their institution and/or program’s website. Accreditation agencies will also have a database of all their accredited schools or programs listed on the agency’s websites.

There are many MBA accrediting organizations, but arguably the most well-known, highest-regarded agency is the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International).

What should a student consider if they choose a program or school that is not accredited?

If a program or school is not accredited, students [should] spend time reflecting on their academic and career goals to figure out if pursuing a non-accredited program is a viable option for them. Attending a non-accredited school may add barriers to a student’s academic journey (i.e. not being able to access financial aid) and may limit opportunities for a student (i.e. limited job prospects). If they decide to transfer to another institution, their coursework may not transfer with them if it is coming from a non-accredited school.

Is there any other advice you have for students who want to understand what accreditation means?

A great starting point . . . is to first identify if their schools or programs are accredited and if so, by what agencies. And if they are accredited, the institution or program’s website typically provides further information about what that status means.

Another great resource to learn more about accreditation is to visit accrediting agencies' websites. When it comes to programmatic accreditation, students might also consider speaking with the program advisor or a faculty member, as these folks likely also know a great deal about their program's accreditation.

Portrait of Stephanie DeBord

Stephanie DeBord

Stephanie DeBord has spent the past seven years advising students in various capacities. She currently helps undeclared/exploratory students navigate the college experience, explore program options, and map degree plans. Her background and expertise include academic advising, the high school-to-college transition, student affairs, and higher education.

Stephanie has a bachelor's degree in sport management and a master's degree in higher education and student affairs.

Stephanie is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Business School & MBA Accreditation

Specialized accrediting agencies assess programs within an institution. The most prestigious business schools and MBA programs hold programmatic accreditation.

Several agencies focus exclusively on business schools and MBA programs, and students considering an online MBA should always check the program's accreditation.

What is the best accreditation for an MBA? It depends, in part, on your goal. The ACSBP, for example, accredits MBA programs with a research focus, which may provide an advantage for graduates pursuing research-based careers. The AACSB is the most selective of the top three business accrediting agencies, and a degree from an AACSB-accredited program is considered highly prestigious. The IACBE focuses on smaller institutions, evaluating their success at carrying out program missions.

All three MBA accrediting institutions have slightly different methods, but their purpose is the same. Programs that hold accreditation from the AACSB, the ACSBP, or the IACBE are guaranteed to meet high academic standards.

Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business is the oldest and most prestigious of the three MBA accrediting agencies.

The AACSB dates back to 1916, when a group of top colleges and universities, including Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago, founded the Association of Collegiate Schools of Business.

These institutions, which still run the top MBA programs in the nation today, created the AACSB to promote excellence in business education.

The AACSB is the gold standard of business accreditation. The organization accredits fewer than five percent of eligible MBA programs, marking out the most elite programs conferring MBA degrees.

Schools seeking AACSB accreditation must undergo a lengthy evaluation process. Upon reviewing a school's application, AACSB staff members create a standards alignment plan, and assign a peer review team to conduct on-site reviews and assessments. The entire process can take several years, and the AACSB reviews accredited programs every five years. MBA programs must also submit regular self-evaluation reports to demonstrate continued adherence to AACSB criteria.

AACSB accredited online MBA programs meet well-recognized standards.Degrees earned through AACSB online MBA programs also confer reputation value, and some elite employers will recruit graduates only from AACSB business schools.

See AACSB-accredited schools

Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)

Founded in 1988, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs is a relatively new accrediting agency. The ACBSP grants accreditation to institutions that demonstrate their teaching excellence, show strong student learning outcomes, and follow models for continuous improvement.

The ACBSP follows a student-centered teaching and learning approach to ensure that students gain the appropriate skills from their chosen degree program. ACBSP accredited MBA programs measure and certify the quality of student learning, as well as the outcome for program graduates.

In order to earn ACBSP accreditation, schools must apply and complete a detailed questionnaire. An ACBSP mentor is assigned to analyze the program and authorize a self-study report. The ACBSP then conducts an on-site visit before announcing its decision.

In addition to its focus on student learning outcomes, the ACSBP prioritizes programs that emphasize research. Students who attend an ACBSP accredited MBA program benefit from the institution's commitment to quality, and the ACBSP reports that graduates from accredited business schools are better prepared to take on a competitive job market.

See ACBSP-accredited schools here

International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)

The International Accreditation Council for Business Education, the newest business accrediting agency, dates back to 1997 and gained recognition from CHEA in 2011. The IACBE evaluates programs according to the philosophy that excellence in education can be measured by comparing a program's mission to its educational outcomes. This agency tends to focus on smaller, private institutions.

To earn IACBE accreditation, programs undergo an independent, external evaluation process designed to measure effectiveness. The IACBE reviews a program's teaching and learning methods as well as its results.

As with other accrediting agencies, programs applying for accreditation must prepare a self-study demonstrating compliance with IACBE principles and submit to an on-site visit conducted by independent peer reviewers.

The IACBE Board of Commissioners then determines if the program has earned accreditation. Graduates with IACBE accredited online MBA degrees benefit from the IACBE's guarantee that the program meets high standards and follows the best practices in business education.

While researching online MBA programs, you can find out if a school is IACBE accredited by exploring the organization's database. A comprehensive list of schools is available to IACBE members upon request.

See IACBE-accredited schools here

Common Questions About MBA Accreditation

Do employers care about accreditation?

Employers looking to hire MBA graduates for management and executive roles almost always care about accreditation. Unaccredited programs are far more likely to fall short of established academic standards. As such, their graduates may lack the knowledge or skills required to succeed in the role.

Does it matter if your MBA is accredited?

Yes. An accredited MBA meets elevated standards for academic quality. These standards ensure that you will emerge from the program equipped with the knowledge and skills employers expect.

What accreditation should your MBA have?

At minimum, your MBA program should be from a school with valid and current institutional accreditation. Programmatic endorsements from agencies like the AACSB, ACBSP, and IACBE add further value and prestige. However, programmatic endorsements are optional.

Which is better - certified or accredited?

Accreditation is the benchmark standard of a school or program's academic quality. Valid institutional accreditation is recognized throughout the United States and internationally. Students should proceed with caution if a U.S. school or program claims to be "certified" rather than "accredited."

Page last reviewed December 4, 2022

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