As you finalize your decision to return to school and earn your Master of Business Administration, remember to check on one small but vital fact as you are choosing a business school and signing up for your classes. That fact: Accreditation. Even in an online MBA program, accreditation is vital for you to receive the best business education possible. Your current employer or a future one will want to know that any degree programs from which you earned credit, as a graduate or undergraduate student, were overseen by an agency that verified its class offerings and put it through the accreditation process including an assessment of their professional development programs on campus, course content and requirements, faculty knowledge and experience, questions for alumni, a full curriculum overview, and other criteria.
As you are looking into accreditation of the different programs you are considering, think about the types of accreditation as well. They do matter. Regional accreditation agencies are better viewed than national accreditation agencies. Yes, employers will know where to check, and knowing someone in the prospective company or having a solid network won't replace an accredited degree.
If you have plans to work for a Fortune 500 company, in a C-suite position, or in international business then agency type will affect your ability to do so. Even if MBA Program A offers classes that are similar to MBA Program B, but program B has a lower standard for accreditation, that degree you earn from Program A will hold more weight.
Who monitors the agencies? None other than the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the Department of Education. Both of these monitors expect accreditation agencies to maintain high standards of excellence. They evaluate each accreditation agency and support those who uphold their standards.
Now that you know this, you’re ready to get started looking in-depth at each program you’re considering.
What is Accreditation?
“Accreditation” is the recognition that an educational institution (university, college) works to maintain a set of standards required for graduates. Accreditation also signifies that university graduates have earned a specific set of credentials that allow them to practice professionally in their career of choice, such as finance or business analytics.
All of this to say that accreditation tells you that the program you are considering provides an education that reaches certain standards, so you can graduate and find the position you want.
While some unaccredited programs may maintain high standards and provide a high level of education to their students, without that accreditation, you will find it harder to land the job you want and begin to work in your chosen profession.
Thinking back to the statement that human resources departments do check accreditation statuses of schools, think about this. No matter how many resumes you send out, they will be tossed into the trash. You won’t make it to the interview phase.
If you try to obtain loans or government-funded financial aid, you won’t have a very easy time of obtaining the money you need if you are enrolled in an unaccredited school. This funding is denied to students enrolled in a program that is not accredited.
If you have been able to obtain financial aid at an unaccredited program, what will you do if you decide to transfer your credits to an accredited educational institution? They won’t transfer. The academic standards at unaccredited schools isn’t as high as they are at accredited schools. You’ll have to pay to take those classes again at the accredited university.
Now that you know this, it’s easy to see that you should check the accreditation status of schools and programs you’re considering. By checking on the US Department of Education website, you’ll find out whether your college and online MBA program are accredited or not.
You have national accreditation agencies and regional accreditation agencies. If you choose to attend a program with a regional accreditation, you may benefit just a bit more, though there are program specific accreditations, including one that covers business schools: The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).
Regional agencies include Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools; New England Association of Schools and Colleges, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Northwest Accreditation Commission, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Regional accreditation carries the highest prestige. It’s widely recognized. You’re able to easily transfer degrees and credits. Courses are instructor-led. Finally, you’ll be eligible for all corporate tuition reimbursement plans.
Look at the cons: These schools are more expensive than schools given national accreditation. Education programs are less career-oriented. You may be required to take more liberal arts classes. Admission standards may be highly competitive.
National accreditation agencies include Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission and the Council on Occupational Education.
Advantages include: Fewer liberal arts classes, less expensive than regionally accredited colleges, majors are more career-oriented, admission standards are more relaxed.
Disadvantages include: Accrued credits may not transfer if you later attend a school that’s regionally accredited, you may not be included in corporate tuition plans, degrees and coursework may not be accepted by jobs that require post-graduation licensure (accounting, teaching, healthcare, and engineering), courses may not be instructor led but staff led or require you to study on your own.
Are Accrediting Agencies Monitored?
Yes, they are. The Department of Education focuses on the performance and activities of each regional and national accrediting agency. For instance, the Obama administration, in April 2016, directed the Education Department to enforce accreditation standards more than they had been doing in recent history. The standards each agency was directed to enforce concerned the measurement of student achievement. In addition, the Obama administration directed each accreditation agency to think about additional areas of scrutiny that could be placed on problematic colleges and programs. The biggest focus was on the role of accreditation agencies as gatekeepers for federal financial aid.
Congress spoke up as well, reminding the Department of Education that agencies allowed low-performing colleges to retain accreditation. Additionally, Education was directed to conduct complete reviews of each accreditor to help bring up their educational standards.
Most of the concern has focused on for-profit colleges, such as Corinthian Colleges, which lost its accreditation, then was forced to close its doors all across the country.
The Department of Education was also instructed to increase the transparency that accreditors provide as they impose sanctions on schools. It was decided that providing more info to students rather than less was the better way to go.
Still, the Department of Education gives accreditors the latitude they need to impose sanctions on colleges or require troubled institutions to undergo renewal more frequently.
Accreditors have requested increased flexibility in overseeing educational institutions. Elite universities, such as Princeton, have requested less oversight, suggesting that agencies focus more on institutions with a poor track record.
Princeton University has also promoted accreditation that differentiates between US universities based on their past performance. The university suggested that a “self-study” and on-site visit covering selected topics in areas where the university is working on improvement should be the focus. The university also pointed out that, if the accreditation agency responsible for its performance focused more on institutions needing guidance and review, its resources will be better allocated.
Accreditors look at areas such as student retention, graduation, job placement, and student loan default as they determine which institutions maintain their accreditation. Schools and universities that are not performing to specified standards or helping students to succeed in their careers and life may be at risk of losing their accreditation.
Federal agencies are limited in the actions they can take on accreditors that aren’t doing everything they should be doing to meet the needs of their students. The most reliable action the feds can take: acknowledging the role of accreditation agencies as gatekeepers for federal financial aid. In pursuing this, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity works to oversee accreditation agencies to ensure they will keep this recognition. The US Secretary of Education makes the final decision on which accreditation agency retains their role as federal financial aid gatekeeper.
In discharging this role, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools failed to sufficiently oversee Corinthian College, along with other for-profit chain colleges, for their misuse of federal financial aid. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges was challenged over sanctions it placed on several California community colleges, such as City College of San Francisco.
If the Department of Education finds that an accrediting agency is continuing to accredit any education institutions that are under dicipline by other accrediting agencies, that first accrediting agency may be ruled “ineffective.” If other metrics for accreditation are not used, such as student retention, the Department of Education retains the right to question the effectiveness of that agency.
In the end, several US senators would still want to see the Department of Education coming down more strongly on accreditors that appear to be failing or falling short in their responsibilities—as happened with ACICS and its oversight of Corinthian College. Some for-profit college chains may take a “predatory” stance when it comes to attracting students and ensuring they receive the educations they pay for.
Accreditation for Business Schools and MBA Programs
More and more often, companies are requiring applicants for MBA-level positions to have degrees beyond a bachelor’s degree. Beyond that, you and your potential employer want to make sure that you have chosen the right program for your career goals.
Your employer also wants to ensure that the program you ultimately select has an accreditation from an agency that actively oversees its activities and level of performance in several areas.
Consider your program’s accreditation to be a “seal of approval,” given by several organizations to business programs. As you evaluate one program over another, you will hear that the program at this school is more prestigious or rigorous than at other schools. Pay attention to that—then verify that the programs in which you are the most interested do, indeed, have accreditation from an agency that takes its role seriously. Verify each school’s accreditation by visiting the Department of Education’s website. Click on the link for “Is my school accredited?” Enter just the name of the school or schools you’re considering—the website will pull up every program that has been accredited, along with its accrediting organization.
A few accreditors for business schools and programs include:
- Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
- European Quality Improvement System
- Distance Education and Training Council (for online programs, this is the accreditor you should look for)
Remember, regional accrediting agencies have more advantages for programs and students. In addition, regional accreditation agencies will accredit online programs, provided that the program meets the standards of the accreditor.
DETC provides accreditation for the majority of online MBA college programs. The drawback is that this is the least significant of the MBA accreditation agencies. Look, instead, for regional accreditation for the online programs in which you’re most interested. AACSB accreditation is also another indicator of a good, strong program.
Accreditation is one of the last things students check. Instead, it should be one of the first. An accredited MBA program is one that is of high quality. If you choose to work overseas, you’ll want to find a program that in internationally recognized. Look for an accreditation from AMBA (Association of MBAs), based in London. This agency accredits the MBA programs in universities in 70 countries. Along with accrediting MBA programs, it also accredits Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and Master of Business and Management (MBM). As a demonstration of the high level of expectation of students—incoming students must be able to prove three years of previous work. In addition, at least three-quarters of the AMBA-accredited school’s faculty must hold a master’s degree or a doctoral degree in a relevant discipline.
An MBA program is expensive to obtain. Accreditation allows the MBA program to link in to financial aid. You’ll want to qualify for federal funding, which means scholarships and grants, rather than student loans. When an MBA program has approval from the Department of Education, via accreditation agencies, it can apply for Approval to Participate (E-App) in the federal financial aid programs and grant programs.
Accreditation of an MBA program also helps with job placement. Whether you plan to work for a large organization or strike out on your own (entrepreneurship), that accreditation makes it a little easier to do so. Don’t forget to check on the various accreditations of each MBA program you’re investigating.
Why Accreditation is so Important
You’re going to spend the next two years, immersed in some pretty weighty business classes, as you work toward your MBA. You want your efforts to bear fruit, helping you to find a job at a new level in your chosen business field.
If you decide to attend an unaccredited MBA program, you’re going to find that your job search is unnecessarily lengthened. Without that proof of accreditation from at least one accreditor, interviewers, companies and human resource departments are going to bypass your resume in favor of resumes from applicants who did take the time to enroll in accredited programs. This can’t be overstated.
Accreditation simply points out the quality of the MBA program that a particular school offers. All accreditation agencies carefully go through the programs of schools for which they are responsible. They look for evidence that the school, program and instructors all meet the high-quality standards that have been set. Specifically, they look at the students, teaching, faculty and services.
The AACSB, AMBA and EQUIS accreditation agencies are all responsible for overseeing and accrediting MBA programs in the United States and in Europe. If a program is accredited by all three agencies, it has achieved the “triple crown” distinction—making it a very high-quality program, indeed. Students who successfully complete and graduate from these MBA programs are almost certainly assured of a good job offer.
In the U.S., regional accreditation agencies oversee schools in well-described regional areas. These are the Middle State Association of Colleges and schools (Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, District of Columbia and Delaware).
New England Association of Schools and Colleges (Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut).
North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (Wyoming, Wisconsin, West Virginia, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan, Kansas, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Colorado, Arkansas and Arizona).
Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (Washington, Utah, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Idaho and Alaska).
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida and Alabama).
Western Association of Schools and Colleges (Pacific Basin, Hawaii and California).
The most reputable MBA accreditor is the AACSB. It does recognize a limited number of online MBA programs. DETC accredits the majority of online MBA programs—look for regional accreditation to ensure a high-quality program.
If you attend and participate in an unaccredited MBA program, you run the risk of being refused a certification, should you major in a business field requiring that its employees hold a certificate. A high level of on-the-job performance is more likely if you choose and graduate from an accredited online MBA program.
AACSB has focused on quality issues in distance learning (online programs). This focus was on gaining insight on issues relevant to quality distance learning.
Finally, accreditation verifies that an online MBA program is trustworthy, certified and of high quality. All schools accredited by a agency are required to maintain high standards that have been spelled out by learning commissions. Courses from accredited programs provide a curriculum that prepares you for successful employment post-graduation.