AACSB vs ACBSP Accreditation

Should applicants care about the accreditation of an MBA program to which they might apply? Before answering that question, let’s first review what accreditation means for both business schools and applicants.

Educational accreditation means a university offers a curriculum that adheres to quality assurance standards in academic disciplines. Accreditation ensures that “education provided by higher education institutions meets acceptable levels of quality,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Accreditation consists of two types: institutional and specialized. Institutional accreditation usually pertains to an entire college or university, while specialized accreditation pertains to component schools, departments, or programs within such an institution.

In the United States, external private, non-profit organizations evaluate educational institutions and certify that business schools comply with applicable standards by awarding accreditation status. Several organizations worldwide award accreditation to business schools and programs, including the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).

Overview: The AACSB and the ACBSP

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) has provided quality assurance services to accredited business schools since 1916 and was founded by a consortium of top-notch schools. Its founding institutions included Harvard University, Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and New York University. Initially, the consortium selected the “American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business” for their name.

This organization emphasizes faculty research in delivering students solid knowledge foundations. The AACSB has awarded accreditations to about 965 schools in 60 countries, mainly those affiliated with major research universities, and awarded specialized accounting program accreditations to an additional 194.

The newer Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) was founded in 1989 to accredit schools, including two-year institutions like community colleges, with an emphasis on teaching and applied knowledge instead of the research emphasis common to the AACSB-accredited institutions. The ACBSP focuses on tangible learning outcomes and quality improvement, especially as the workforce demands change. Around 1,200 ACBSP-accredited programs exist in 60 countries worldwide.

Side-by-Side Comparison: AACSB and ACBSP

Does MBA Accreditation Matter?

Yes, absolutely! Accreditation should matter to potential MBA program applicants, and here’s why.

Some commentators argue in favor of ACBSP’s achievements. They point out that in only 30 years, the ACBSP brought an emphasis on educational standards commensurate with an accreditation process to almost 3,000 programs whose academic structures and lower operating budgets likely prevent them from ever receiving AACSB accreditation. That does seem like a significant accomplishment.

AACSB International is aiming to bridge the gap between business schools and real-world scenarios. With a vision of enhancing research that actually helps people, Caryn Beck-Dudley, President & CEO wants B-schools to move away from scholarly work into studies that positively affect society. The nonprofit organization looks forward to an improved understanding between academia and day-to-day operations while encouraging meaningful discoveries within the field of business administration.

By illustration, on the topic of research relevance, Poets and Quants quoted AACSB President and CEO Caryn Beck-Dudley:

“We need less academic research, and more research that actually results in a positive societal impact.”

Beck-Dudley’s pioneering vision has been proven highly effective through the huge number of AACSB alums who now lead successful companies around the globe.

AACSB-accredited schools generally have the highest-quality faculties, deliver relevant and challenging curricula, and provide educational and career opportunities not found at other schools. Only about 5 percent of the 16,000 schools worldwide granting business degrees have met the AACSB’s rigorous “gold standard” accreditation requirements, and AACSB-accredited institutions are in the top five of the Economist’s 2022 top 100 full-time MBA programs. Moreover, the U.S. News & World Report profiles 36 Fortune 500 CEOs, the majority of whom attended an AACSB-accredited business school.

AACSB Accreditation Advantages

Academic Research

There’s substantial academic research supporting the contention that AACSB-accredited schools offer MBA students and graduates several significant advantages.

High Quality Faculty

In general, AACSB-accredited universities offer better-quality faculty. Roller et al. (2003) reported that deans and chairs of AACSB- and ACBSP-accredited schools agreed that AACSB accreditation helps faculty recruitment. Additionally, Roberts et al. (2006) reported that faculty hired after a school achieved AACSB accreditation overwhelmingly disclosed their preference for working at such an institution.

Professional Examination Performance

An indirect yet persuasive measure of graduates’ capabilities involves performance on professional licensure examinations, like the CPA Examination.

Lindsay and Campbell (2003) found higher CPA Examination pass rates among graduates of AACSB-accredited schools. In addition, Howell and Heshizer (2008) found that AACSB accreditation significantly correlated with passing the CPA Examination in fewer attempts. Furthermore, Barilla et al. (2009) found that separate AACSB accounting accreditation led to increased success rates of first-time CPA candidates.

Employment and Career Benefits

But will AACSB accreditation help MBA graduates fare better in their careers? The research suggests they can.

Kim et al. (1996) and Olbrecht and Yeaton (2011) found higher starting salaries for graduates from AACSB-accredited schools. Also, Kohlmeyer et al. (2011) found that employers would hire an individual with an online accounting degree if the program had AACSB accreditation.

And in 2019, AACSB reported that 56 percent of employers offer tuition assistance to employees pursuing AACSB-accredited degrees, up from 53 percent in 2018.

Reputation and Accreditation

Finally, recruiters say two closely related factors, a school’s reputation and accreditation, are typically more important than how the MBA degree was earned, such as whether a graduate earned the degree through an online program. Moreover, AACSB accreditation is a vital component of a school’s reputation. For example, Wolk (2007) pointed out that U.S. News and World Report and other ranking authorities consider AACSB accreditation, but do not consider accreditation by other accrediting boards.

Although in 2023 there might still be some human resources and hiring executives unfamiliar with accreditation, those executives certainly know the names of the “best” business schools. And AACSB-accredited schools are of the highest quality in any definitive ranking list—including those published by U.S. News, the Economist, and the Financial Times.

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Rachel Drummond, MEd
Rachel Drummond, MEd

Rachel Drummond has offered a unique blend of metrics-based mindfulness to BSchools.org since 2019. She teaches future business leaders to prioritize their well-being to sustain professional success and personal fulfillment over the lifetime of a corporate or entrepreneurial business career.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.