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
|Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)||Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)|
|History||AACSB built its accreditation process around the goal of creating and supporting the next generation of business leaders. This board provides quality assurance, business education intelligence, and professional development services to member institutions.||ACBSP was developed to accredit programs, including those offered at two-year institutions like community colleges with a teaching (rather than research) emphasis.|
|Mission Statement||To foster engagement, accelerate innovation, and amplify impact in business education.||To promote continuous improvement and recognize excellence in business education.|
|Number of Host Nations||60 countries||60 countries|
|Types of Accreditation Awarded||Accredits both institutions and programs offering business and accounting degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. AACSB does not accredit associate-level programs.||Only accredits business programs (not institutions) at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels.|
|Accreditation Costs to Institutions or Programs||
The initial accreditation process costs $29,450, which includes a $15,000 accreditation visit application fee. The school must also pay AACSB dues of $3,300 annually.
Following initial accreditation, business institutions must pay an additional annual fee of $5,950. Institutions offering only accounting programs must pay $3,650.
Each Continuing Review Fee costs $5,500.
Membership in ACBSP costs $2,950 per year.
The initial application fee for accreditation is $2,500 and the process is spread over three years. The total cost is $17,200, which includes the annual membership dues.
Once accredited, a $2,500 reaffirmation fee is required every 10 years.
|Number of Institutions (or Programs) Accredited||950||1,200|
|Example Accredited Institutions Only Offering On-Campus MBA Programs|
|Example Accredited Institutions Also Offering Online or Hybrid MBA Programs|
|Honor Societies||Beta Gamma Sigma
Beta Alpha Psi (Accountancy)
|Delta Mu Delta|
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
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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