What is MBA accreditation, and why is it important?
MBA accreditation is a way of independently verifying the quality of business education. Universities, business schools, and individual MBA programs can all receive accreditation based on factors like the standard of their teaching, faculty, facilities and learning outcomes. The three main accrediting bodies are AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA.
Although MBA rankings can give us an idea of the quality of a school or program, an MBA accreditation is a seal of approval from an external organization. Each accrediting body has its own criteria and set of standards, so achieving accreditation from multiple organizations can be extremely valuable for universities.
To learn more about MBA accreditation, we heard from Prof. Dr. Mariëlle Heijltjes, the Executive Director of UMIO Maastricht University. She says this external recognition makes business school accreditation a coveted seal of approval.
“The relevance of these accreditations for a program is that they give you an objective measure of quality,” she explains. “By having all these accreditations combined, I think we have a very fair outside assessment that we deliver the highest quality for a student enrolling in the program.” (01:19)
Dr. Boris Blumberg, MBA Captain at UMIO Maastricht University, goes on to explain the benefits of accreditation for students: “The accreditation value for students is that they receive high-quality research and education, and also a world-recognized diploma.” (01:48)
What is triple-crown accreditation?
You may have noticed that some business schools hold triple accreditation or triple-crown accreditation. This means that their school or MBA programs have been accredited by the three largest and most influential accrediting bodies.
“Less than 1% of business schools actually have this number of accreditations,” Prof. Dr. Mariëlle explains. “AACSB, EQUIS, and AMBA together are the famous “triple crown” of accrediting bodies, which is a seal of quality for business schools.” (00:52)
These three organizations award accreditation to universities, schools, and MBAs all over the world, but do so depending on different criteria. Let’s look at the three main accrediting bodies in a little more detail.
Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
The Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is based in the USA. The AACSB awards accreditation to universities based on the quality of their business and accounting programs. It is important to note that the AACSB is the only body that awards university-wide accreditation, rather than accrediting business schools or MBA programs.
The AACSB accreditation standards rate universities based on the following criteria:
- Strategic Management and Innovation
- Strategic Planning
- Physical, Virtual and Financial Resources
- Faculty and Professional Staff Resources
- Learner Success
- Assurance of Learning
- Learner Progression
- Teaching Effectiveness and Impact
- Thought Leadership, Engagement and Societal Impact
- Impact of Scholarship
- Engagement and Societal Impact
European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS)
As the name suggests, the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS) is based in Europe. Their scope is slightly smaller than the AACSB, because EQUIS awards accreditation to business schools rather than entire universities.
Their awarding criteria are also slightly different to those of AACSB. This is the framework they use to assess business schools:
- Connections with Practice
- Executive Education
- Resources and Admin
- Ethics, Responsibility and Sustainability
- Research and Development
Association of MBAs (AMBA)
The Association of MBAs (AMBA) is a UK-based organization that has the smallest scope of the three, because it only accredits individual MBA programs. This means a university or business school itself cannot receive AMBA accreditation; only their MBA programs can.
These are the criteria that the AMBA uses to assess MBA programs:
- The MBA Portfolio
- The Institution
- The Student Cohort Experience
- MBA Design, Curriculum and Assessment
Why some top US business schools are not triple-accredited
Less than 1% of business schools worldwide hold the coveted triple accreditation – equating to a little over 100 schools. However, by looking at the list of triple-accredited institutions you might notice some notable absentees – particularly in the United States, where just two schools hold triple accreditation: Olin Business School and Hult International Business School. So, why is this the case?
There are two main reasons. Firstly, many North American universities that already hold AACSB accreditation do not seek further accreditation from the two European-based bodies. That’s because they believe AACSB is already a sufficient mark of quality in their region.
Secondly, many of these universities do not meet the criteria of AMBA and/or EQUIS, so simply decide not to go through the sometimes costly and lengthy process of receiving accreditation from them.
In the case of the AMBA, one of their key criteria is that all MBA students at a school must have at least three years of work experience. Since this does not align with the admissions criteria of many US business schools, they choose not to change their policy. In this sense, it could be argued that triple accreditation is more highly valued in Europe and Asia than it is in North America.
MBA accreditation is another tool you can use to assess the quality of a business school – but it should never be the only one. It’s undoubtedly a good seal of approval to have, but as always, you should consider a range of factors when choosing the right MBA program for you.
This article was updated in September 2022.