Online business school accreditation: What you need to know

When choosing an online business school, accreditation matters. Here's what you need to know about business school accreditation and finding the degree that's best for you.

Accreditation indicates a school or program meets the standards established by the accrediting body. Colleges and universities hold regional or national accreditation, a designation that extends to on-campus and online offerings. Within institutions, individual departments and degrees may hold additional programmatic accreditations. 

For online business schools, programmatic accreditation comes from one of three professional bodies. Each accreditor certifies the academic quality of business degrees based on its own criteria for quality and excellence.

Find out more about online business school accreditation, what it means, and why it matters below. 

What is accreditation? 

Accreditation is a voluntary process through which colleges, universities, and programs demonstrate the quality of their offerings. Accreditation status influences financial aid options, transfer opportunities, and overall reputability.

There are two types of institutional accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation indicates an institution offers academically rigorous degrees, while national accreditation often applies to vocational, career-oriented, and technical programs. 

Programmatic accreditation is an additional type of certification by a specialized body of discipline professionals and experts. 

How important is accreditation for business majors?

By choosing an accredited online business school, you verify the program is worth your time, energy, and money. The rigor with which business programs are evaluated by accrediting bodies means graduates from an accredited program have received a top-notch business education. 

Employers prefer accredited business degrees. Earning a degree from an accredited business school demonstrates to peers and potential employers the quality of your credentials. 

Accreditation for online business schools

Three widely recognized programmatic accreditors for business school programs exist. Each accrediting body assesses business schools using different criteria designed and approved by business professionals and experts. 

Accrediting bodies vary in scope and emphasis, so learners should familiarize themselves with all three.

Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)

ACBSP, founded in 1988, focuses on teaching and learning within business programs. ACBSP accredits associate, bachelor's, and graduate degrees in business, with member campuses in 60 countries worldwide. ACBSP typically accredits business programs offered by smaller private and public institutions.

ACBSP's three-year accreditation process involves questionnaires, action plans, and mentor assistance as business programs prepare for self-study during the second year. During the third-year site visit, an evaluation team assesses the program's quality and plans for continued improvement.

Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International)

AACSB, the oldest and most prestigious accrediting body for business programs, accredits undergraduate and graduate programs at large colleges and universities around the world. More than 900 business schools and nearly 200 accounting schools hold accreditation through AACSB.

AACSB looks at a program's engagement, innovation, and impact. The initial multi-phased accreditation process can take up to seven years. Accredited schools are reassessed every five years.

International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)

IACBE, established in 1997, focuses on supportive, outcome-based business and accounting programs. IACBE resembles ACBSP in its focus on teaching, while AACSB looks at research and teaching alike.

Business degrees at smaller, private schools and colleges often hold accreditation through IACBE. IACBE accredits roughly 2,000 programs across the globe, all of which participated in self-study and on-site visits. Earning accreditation takes up to four years, with renewal required every seven years.

Which accrediting body is best?

AACSB is considered the gold standard in business school accreditation. Colleges and universities often require business instructors to have an AACSB business degree, and many employers look for AACSB degree-holders. 

Earning a business degree from an IACBE- or ACBSP-accredited school isn't without merits, however. These programs emphasize teaching and learning as they advance the discipline, and they could be a good fit for some individuals.

How to spot fake accreditation

Not all accrediting bodies are alike, and students should check the legitimacy of their school's accreditation status. Some schools may falsely boast accreditation from a recognized accreditor. Cross-check their claims against the list of accredited schools and programs on the accrediting body's website. 

Other programs may claim accreditation from an illegitimate accrediting body -- some run by degree-mill schools themselves. Students should check the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's list of recognized accrediting bodies to make sure an accrediting body actually exists. 

Do online schools need to be accredited?

Online colleges and universities need to be accredited by a regional or national accrediting body. Individual schools and programs may maintain additional programmatic accreditation.

Is IACBE accreditation good?

IACBE accreditation indicates a program meets the organization's goals, standards, and mission. Accreditation from IACBE is good for students looking to enroll in an outcome-based business degree. 

Is AACSB better than IACBE?

AACSB accreditation is the gold standard in business school accreditation. AACSB accreditation is better if an individual wants to earn a degree that appeals to top employers worldwide and emphasizes teaching and research.

Conclusion

Online business school accreditation is among the many factors to consider when choosing a business program. With three accrediting bodies for business degrees, students can select programs that adhere to criteria that fit their priorities.

By enrolling in the right accredited online business degree, individuals optimize their return on time and money invested. Choosing the best accredited online business program also influences future employment and potential earnings in the long term.

This article was reviewed by Krystal Covington, MBA

Krystal Covington, a woman with medium-length, curly hair, smiles at the camera.

Krystal Covington, MBA, is a business growth strategist with 15 years of experience in marketing and public relations. Her company, Go Lead Consulting, provides clients foundational tools to build new client and customer relationships. 

Covington founded Women of Denver, one of the largest privately held membership organizations in Denver, Colorado. Her program helps women increase their business acumen, sharpen leadership skills and connect with other high-achieving women. Covington received her MBA from Western Governors University in 2012.

Krystal Covington is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.