Business School Accreditation: What's the Difference?

By University Staff

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When searching for a business school, you may notice that some online universities offer business programs are accredited by different organizations with acronyms like AACSB, IACBE, and ACBSP. It’s easy to get lost in an alphabet soup of accrediting bodies. So what’s the difference between these different accreditations? And does that difference really matter?

Schools of all kinds voluntarily undergo the accreditation process in order to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs. Business schools in particular seek out certain kinds of accreditation to demonstrate their legitimacy as institutions of higher learning. The top three business school accreditation agencies are the AACSB, the ACBSP, and the IACBE -- each with its own unique perspective and standards. The Forbes School of Business at the University of Arizona Global Campus chose to pursue the IACBE accreditation and is a member in good standing. So what are the differences?


AACSB stands for the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and was organized in 1916, as an accrediting agency for Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degree programs in business administration and accounting. The focus of the AACSB is on research-based institutions and large land grant institutions (land grant institutions are predominately large, public universities). Among its many standards is faculty advancement, which is based on the attainment of research grants and research publication i.e. publish or peril. The AACSB primarily serves institutions for which research is a high priority. No current AACSB accredited institutions offer any fully online programs nor do they accredit Associate’s degree programs.


ACBSP stands for the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs and was organized in 1992, and accredits business, accounting, and business-related programs at the associate, baccalaureate, master, and doctorate degree levels worldwide. The focus of the ACBSP is on teaching excellence and student outcomes while recognizing the importance of scholarly research and encouraging a mutually beneficial balance between research and teaching. ACBSP was the first to offer specialized business accreditation at all degree levels. With headquarters in the US and in Belgium, they embrace a more international collection of schools. ACBSP focuses on rewarding excellence in teaching.


IACBE stands for the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education and was founded in 1997 in response to the expressed needs of presidents, chief executive officers, chief academic officers, business deans, chairs, and directors, who wanted an accreditation process that was mission-driven and outcomes-based, not driven by prescriptive standards. At that time, the majority of the four-year colleges and universities in the United States that offered degrees in business were not recognized, and could not become recognized, by the existing business accrediting bodies. Similarly, hundreds of institutions of higher education located outside of the United States were unable to obtain specialized accreditation for their business programs. The IACBE has grown into the leading outcomes-based professional accreditation agency for business and management education in colleges and universities whose primary purpose is excellence in teaching and learning. The IACBE accredits business programs that lead to degrees at the associate, bachelor's, masters, and doctoral levels in institutions of higher education worldwide. The IACBE does not accredit business programs of institutions of higher education that offer only associate degrees in business.

The IACBE evaluates academic quality in terms of educational outcomes instead of prescriptive standards and examines whether students learned what they were supposed to have learned, whether the academic business unit is functioning effectively and whether the academic business unit is accomplishing its mission and goals. The IACBE has hundreds of member institutions and campuses and has accredited approximately 1000 business and business-related programs in the United States and throughout the world.

All three area nonprofit organizations and international in scope. Each one evaluates programs at all levels and as of 2011, they are all officially recognized by CHEA, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Where the AACSB is prescriptive and research-oriented, guiding schools in their structure and curriculum, the IACBE and the ACBSP follow a more results-based approach to ensure student success.

Whether approved by the AACSB, the IACBE, or the ACBSP, you can trust that your business program will prepare you to navigate many different challenges. As a student, you deserve to know that your school is accredited. Do your research, weigh your options, and choose the school that’s the best fit for you.


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