How to spot an unaccredited MBA program: Advice

MBA accreditation shapes your education and job prospects. Here's how to find accredited online MBA programs and avoid unaccredited ones.
Written by Genevieve Carlton, Contributor

Why should you choose an accredited business school for your online MBA degree? Because accredited programs have a strong track record in business education. Only accredited online MBA programs reliably prepare graduates for business careers.

Online and in-person MBA programs receive accreditation from independent, non-profit agencies after passing a rigorous evaluation. And unaccredited programs can cost you more than a mountain of student debt –– they can also leave you with no job prospects. 

Rather than gamble on an unaccredited business school, make sure you know how to spot scams and identify accredited programs.

What is accreditation? 

Accreditation recognizes schools and programs that meet high standards. Universities pursue accreditation from independent, non-profit accrediting agencies. Schools are accredited as a whole, but individual programs may be accredited separately, too.

Business schools may hold accreditation from one of three international programmatic accrediting agencies, which we'll describe below.

While schools need a license to operate, accreditation represents a marker of academic quality. And attending an unaccredited school or program can harm your education and job prospects.

How important is accreditation for an MBA?

Prospective MBA students should always choose an accredited business school. Accreditation matters for several reasons. 

First, accreditation is an indicator of quality. Accredited online MBA programs rank highly not only for academic excellence but also for their mission and impact. 

Second, only accredited institutions qualify for federal financial aid programs. Attending an unaccredited school means students must rely on more expensive private loans. 

Finally, employers look for job applicants with a degree from an accredited program. Unaccredited business degrees can even hurt your chances on the job market. 

MBA program red flags

How can you avoid predatory MBA programs? With MBA degrees in high demand, some programs deceive applicants to enrich themselves. 

Look for these warning signs when researching MBA programs.

1. The school is unaccredited or lists a phony accreditation

MBA programs do not announce that they're unaccredited. Instead, they often list a phony accreditation or simply ignore accreditation. 

So, how can you check whether a school holds real accreditation? 

First, know the three accrediting bodies for MBA programs (listed below) and check their databases for the program. 

Second, visit the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's list of recognized accrediting bodies and check whether the program's listed accreditation comes from a legitimate agency. 

Finally, look for programmatic and school-wide accreditation. Legitimate programs hold both types of accreditation. 

2. The program makes too-good-to-be-true promises

Diploma mills often make lofty promises that fall through. Here are some red flag claims:

  • You can earn your degree in a matter of weeks

  • The program requires no studying

  • You receive a degree after paying a fee

  • The program does not require taking MBA courses

3. Its website lacks contact information

Legitimate business schools include a physical address on their website. Reputable programs also include a list of faculty, plus multiple ways to get in touch with the program. 

Avoid MBA programs that do not list any contact information. These programs are likely scams.  

4. You can pay a flat fee for the degree

Reputable colleges charge per credit hour or per semester. Be wary of programs that offer a degree in exchange for a flat fee. 

Keep in mind that legitimate programs may list the total cost of the degree on their website, but they will not charge a flat fee for the degree.

Accreditation for MBA programs

Three accrediting bodies evaluate and grant accreditation to MBA programs, including online MBA programs. These programmatic accreditors set high standards for business education. 

Accredited business schools complete regular reviews to maintain their status.

SEE: How to get into a top MBA program

Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP): Established in 1988, ACBSP grants accreditation to programs at 1,200 campuses in 60 countries. Member institutions include Webster University, the University of the District of Columbia, and Strayer University.

ACBSP evaluates programs based on their strategic planning, leadership, academic quality, faculty credentials, and educational support. The accrediting body also measures each program's commitment to improvement. Accredited online MBA programs meet the same standards as in-person programs.

Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB): AACSB grants accreditation to over 900 business schools, including many of the top-ranked MBA programs in the U.S. The accrediting body, which began in 1916, reports that 93% of the top 100 full-time MBA programs hold AACSB accreditation. 

The organization's accreditation standards include strategic management benchmarks, curriculum and teaching effectiveness data, and societal impact and engagement metrics. AACSB-accredited programs regularly renew their status. 

International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE): IACBE dates back to 1997 and accredits more than 2,000 business and accounting programs. The independent accrediting body uses outcomes-based standards to grant accreditation. 

IACBE member institutions undergo a rigorous evaluation that includes peer reviews, a self-study, and mission assessments. The process also incorporates a review of the business program's educational processes. IACBE-accredited business schools include several SUNY branches, the University of Arizona Global Campus, and private institutions like St. Thomas Aquinas College.

Final thoughts

An accredited MBA program will always provide more value than an unaccredited program. 

When researching in-person or online MBA programs, check the program's accreditation status. Visit accreditor sites to search their member institutions. 

Business school represents a major investment — so start your MBA on the right foot by choosing an accredited program. 

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