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What Is AACSB Accreditation?

When selecting a business degree program, prospective students with specific academic goals may find colleges touting their AACSB-accredited status and displaying the AACSB seal on websites or brochures. According to AACSB International, “AACSB accreditation is the largest and most recognized specialized accreditation worldwide.” This accreditation is an asset to business schools and benefits students, businesses that employ graduates and society at large.

For students considering an AACSB-accredited Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, such as the one offered fully online by the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNC Pembroke), understanding exactly what AACSB accreditation means is beneficial. This accreditation has ramifications for a student’s potential academic experience, competitiveness in the job market and future job satisfaction.

What Is AACSB International?

In 1916, a group of U.S. universities came together to form a non-governmental accrediting agency — an organization that would evaluate the quality of business schools to determine if they were meeting established performance standards. Through the development of accreditation standards, the organization strived to inspire the pursuit of excellence and continuous improvement in business education programs. Thus, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) was born.

Two years later, AACSB named its first schools to reach accreditation status, including many of the nation’s long-established Ivy League universities and other high-performing public colleges. Later, AACSB expanded to include international business schools and organizations; today, over 1,000 institutions in over 100 countries have earned AACSB accreditation. Yet less than 6% of business schools worldwide hold this esteemed credential, signaling they underwent the rigorous review process and continue to uphold AACSB’s highest standards.

What Are AACSB’s Mission, Vision and Values?

In its mission statement, AACSB International maintains that the organization “elevates the quality and impact of business schools globally.” AACSB’s aims “to achieve positive societal impact through business schools.” The stated values of AACSB International are as follows:

  • Members first
  • Inclusivity
  • Global unity
  • Excellence
  • Curiosity

AACSB ensures that its accreditation processes uphold its mission, vision and values through the organization’s accreditation quality management system. With this system in place, AACSB applied for and earned ISO 9001:2015 certification. AACSB chose to pursue this global certification “because of its focus on ongoing continuous process improvement and quality control and a strong, customer-focused orientation” — all essential components of AACSB’s own accreditation standards.

What Standards Must a College Meet to Receive and Retain AACSB Accreditation?

Three themes underpin AASCB’s 2023 update of the 2020 Guiding Principles and Standards for Business Accreditation: engagement, innovation and impact. Along with AACSB’s mission, vision and values, these themes provide the basis for 10 guiding principles and the nine standards business schools must meet to receive AACSB accreditation. The nine standards are organized into three sections:

  1. Strategic management and innovation
    Standards: strategic planning; physical, virtual and financial resources; faculty and professional staff resources
  2. Learner success
    Standards: curriculum; assurance of learning; learner progression; teaching effectiveness and impact
  3. Thought leadership, engagement and societal impact
    Standards: impact of scholarship; engagement and societal impact

What Is the AACSB Accreditation Process?

Schools voluntarily seek accreditation and undergo a review process that can take several years to complete. Accreditation process steps include the following:

  • The school must be or become an educational member of AACSB.
  • In some cases, the specific academic unit seeking accreditation must submit an initial accreditation application.
  • The school submits an eligibility application. If the appropriate AACSB accreditation committee approves this application, the school is assigned an AACSB liaison as well as a mentor who will assist in developing an initial self-evaluation report.
  • The applicant school progresses through (potentially several) phases of self-evaluation, strategic planning and plan implementation where necessary until it demonstrates alignment with accreditation standards — or fails to.
  • The AACSB team reviews the final self-evaluation report and conducts a pre-visit analysis, followed by further peer review and the official site visit.
  • The accreditation committee reviews all team and peer review recommendations and forwards them to the AACSB board for final ratification.

Once a school receives AACSB accreditation, it must complete a continuous improvement review every five years to ensure it maintains the set quality standards and aligns with new standards as they develop.

What Does AACSB Accreditation Mean for Students?

Students may evaluate many criteria to help determine the best school to attend. Students can often narrow their search by looking at a school’s accreditation. To help direct their decision, students can consider recent statistics from AACSB and the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC):

  • Seventy percent of Fortune 100 company CEOs attended AACSB-accredited schools.
  • Eighty-seven percent of AACSB-accredited school alumni believe their education was “professionally rewarding.”
  • Ninety-six percent of AACSB-accredited school alumni are employed — 91% for an employer and 5% as entrepreneurs.

An overwhelming majority of alumni from AACSB-accredited institutions report benefiting from graduate management education in many ways, including high employability, career advancement and increased earning power.

While a school’s accreditation status may appear confusing or come across as “college jargon” to some, understanding the meaning of accreditation can help students make informed decisions. Students can view AACSB accreditation as a “seal of approval,” directing their path toward the best possible degree program.

Learn more about UNC Pembroke’s online MBA program.

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