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Evaluating Online MBA Program Rankings and Accreditation

13 Sep
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Looking for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program? You have a world of options. Even if you’ve already resolved to earn your master’s degree online, with the convenient flexibility of distance education, the possibilities are rich and varied. It can be hard to know how to recognize the online program that's best for you.

Whether on campus or online, prospective students considering business school can learn a great deal from two key traits of each program. To get a clear picture of what program rankings and accreditation status mean, keep reading.

Understanding Online MBA Program Rankings

Each year, several publications evaluate and rank online MBA programs. The evaluating formulas and criteria they use vary, which can lead to individual programs holding different rankings from one list to the next. Consider your priorities for graduate school as you review the lists: The rankings based on the program traits that are most important to you may prove the most helpful as you decide where to apply.

It's likely that you’ll see rankings from these publications:

The Princeton Review

For its annual ranking of the Top 50 Online MBA Programs, The Princeton Review relies on surveys completed by students and program administrators. The student surveys, which can provide valuable insight into a school and program’s culture, is comprised of questions on more than 30 topics, including:1

  • Faculty
  • Fellow students
  • Career preparation
  • Academics
  • Technology platform
  • Overall program satisfaction

Also addressing more than 30 topics, the administrators’ survey includes questions about:1

  • Admissions selectivity
  • Graduation and retention rates
  • Faculty training and credentials
  • Technological infrastructure
  • Student indebtedness
  • Career outcomes

U.S. News & World Report

The U.S. News & World Report rankings can be especially valuable for MBA candidates looking to build strong professional connections in a well-regarded program. This highly influential publication evaluates the nation’s best online MBA programs using weighted criteria:2

  • Engagement (30%): The extent to which online programs promote course participation from students and responsiveness/accessibility from faculty
  • Peer assessment (25%): The degree to which a program is valued and respected by academic experts; this can have bearing on how employers regard the program
  • Faculty credentials and training (15%): The level and quality of faculty members’ education and experience
  • Student excellence (15%): The likelihood that admitted students can handle the rigor of the program, based on their skills, accomplishments and goals
  • Services and technologies (15%): The diversity of online learning technologies and the strength of support in the areas of learning assistance, career guidance and financial aid

The Financial Times

The Financial Times surveys business schools and their alumni for its yearly ranking of the world’s top 10 online MBA programs. To be considered, business schools must meet the Financial Times’ standards:3

  • Each school must be accredited by one of two named entities (more on program accreditation later in this post)
  • Each program must have run for four consecutive years
  • At least 70% of the course content must be delivered online
  • The student participants must pass a selection process before enrolling and an examination process before graduating
  • At least 20% of alumni (20 people or more) must respond to the survey

The ranking itself has 20 weighted criteria. Nine of them are covered in the alumni responses, contributing 59% of the total weight. School data cover another 10, accounting for 31%. The remaining criterion–the research rank–covers the last 10%.3

This ranking structure may appeal to students committed to deriving a documentable return on their investment, as it gives the most weight to financial considerations, including: 3

  • The program’s value for money (calculated according to alumni salary, tuition, fees and other costs)
  • Average alumni salary
  • Percentage of alumni salary increase
  • The extent to which alumni fulfilled their goals for taking an online MBA
  • The effectiveness of the school careers service in terms of career counseling, personal development, networking events and recruitment

Other factors include:3

  • Teamwork, the interaction between students and the availability of faculty
  • Percentage of women among the students, full-time faculty and the advisory board
  • Percentage of students, full-time faculty and advisory board members whose country of citizenship differs from the location of the school
  • Percentage of full-time faculty with doctorates
  • Carbon footprint rank
  • The proportion of teaching hours from core courses dedicated to ethics, social, environmental issues and climate solutions

Online MBA Program Accreditation

In this country, accredited colleges and universities have passed a formal assessment to verify that they provide education of an acceptably high quality.4 These schools participate in the accreditation process voluntarily. The qualifying steps vary between accreditation agencies, but they typically include meeting certain eligibility requirements and:5

  • Completing a self-evaluation based on the organization’s standards
  • Hosting the accrediting body’s representatives for an on-site visit
  • Receiving a written report from the accrediting organization
  • Submitting a final application for accreditation
  • Undergoing frequent monitoring after accreditation is granted

MBA Program Accrediting Entities

MBA programs in the United States are likely to receive accreditation from one of three independent accreditation agencies–each with a unique mission and values that guide its accrediting standards.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)

Mission: “To foster engagement, accelerate innovation, and amplify impact in business education.”6


Founded in 1916, this global nonprofit association is the oldest, most widely recognized accrediting body for business schools. More than 1,000 business schools from more than 60 countries have received AACSB accreditation.6 To do so, each school must meet nine standards in three categories:7

Strategic Management and Innovation

  • Strategic planning
  • Physical, virtual and financial resources
  • Faculty and professional staff resources

Learner Success

  • Curriculum
  • Assurance of learning
  • Learner progression
  • Teaching effectiveness and impact

Thought Leadership, Engagement and Societal Impact

  • Impact of scholarship
  • Engagement and societal impact

The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)

Mission: “To pursue a better tomorrow by advancing and recognizing excellence in business education through continuous improvement.”8


  • Dynamic leadership
  • Quality, learning-centered education
  • Social advancement
  • Organizational learning
  • Continuous improvement

Since 1988, the ACBSP has accredited business schools around the world. Its accreditation process is based on the Baldridge Education Criteria for Performance Excellence. Its website states, “By evaluating aspects of leadership, strategic planning, relationships with stakeholders, quality of academic programs, faculty credentials, and educational support, ACBSP assesses whether or not business programs offer a rigorous educational experience and commitment to continuous quality improvement.”8

The ACSBP bases its program accreditation decisions on seven standards:9

  • Leadership
  • Strategic planning
  • Student and stakeholder focus
  • Student learning assessment
  • Faculty focus
  • Curriculum
  • Business unit performance

The International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)

Mission: “To advance academic quality in business programs through evidence-based accreditation that encourages institutions to build unique educational models to reflect their mission and vision.”10


  • Collegiality
  • Development
  • Responsiveness

Founded in 1997 as the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education, the IACBE has become “the leading outcomes-based professional accreditation agency for business and management education in colleges and universities.”11

The IACBE’s eighteen accreditation standards include:12

  • A clearly defined mission, broad-based goals and mission-based strategic planning
  • Adequate resources to support the program and pursuit of its goals
  • Integrity, responsibility, innovation and creativity
  • High levels of performance as reflected in student outcomes and operational effectiveness
  • Internal outcomes assessment promoting continuous improvement
  • Development of students into well-educated, ethical, competent business professionals
  • Strong connections with the outside business community
  • Accountability to stakeholders
  • Faculty who are ethical, effective, positively engaged and active contributors to their institution and disciplines
  • Relevant, effective curricula
  • Appropriate, effective course-content delivery that stimulates learning

Benefits of Online MBA Program Accreditation

Quality: Accredited online MBA programs must meet the same standards that on-campus programs meet, which assures applicants of parity in educational quality.

Funding: Accreditation status is a factor in determining student eligibility to receive financial aid.

Advancement: Many employers and doctoral programs only accept degrees and credits from accredited institutions.4

Other Factors to Consider

While rankings and accreditation are worth careful consideration, several other factors can help you determine which online MBA program is best for you. Pay close attention to:

  • Program curriculum and specialization options
  • Faculty qualifications and expertise
  • Student support services and resources
  • Flexibility and accessibility of the online learning platform
  • Alumni network, networking opportunities and career services
  • Cost and other financial considerations
  • Program reputation and prestige
    • Graduation and retention rates
    • Employment rates and career placement services
    • Alumni success stories and career progression
  • Program alignment with your personal goals and learning preferences

Online Quality. Real-World Excellence.

Not even the top online MBA programs are created equal. William & Mary’s Online Master of Business Administration program will prepare you to lead in the business world. As one of the original “Public Ivies,” renowned for its rigorous, comprehensive curriculum, William & Mary offers online MBA students a deep dive into many of the most in-demand business fields. In this AACSB-accredited program, the dedicated faculty of experts leads core courses and electives in business analytics, finance, integrated technology, strategy, managerial accounting and much more.

Put your business career on a strong, upward path. Learn how the Raymond A. Mason School of Business can help you get ahead. Speak to an admissions outreach advisor today.


1. Retrieved on September 12, 2023, from princetonreview.com/business-school-rankings/ranking-methodology
2. Retrieved on September 12, 2023, from usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/mba-methodology
3. Retrieved on September 12, 2023, from ft.com/online-mba-method
4. Retrieved on September 12, 2023, from forbes.com/advisor/education/college-accreditation-guide/
5. Retrieved on September 12, 2023, from almanac.chea.org/review-procedures-and-stages-accreditation
6. Retrieved on September 12, 2023, from aacsb.edu/about-us
7. Retrieved on September 12, 2023, from aacsb.edu/educators/accreditation/business-accreditation/aacsb-business-accreditation-standards
8. Retrieved on September 12, 2023, from acbsp.org/page/about-who-we-are
9. Retrieved on September 12, 2023, from acbsp.org/page/accreditation-standards
10. Retrieved on September 12, 2023, from iacbe.org/about-page/mission-vision-values-governance/
11. Retrieved on September 12, 2023, from iacbe.org/about-page/
12. Retrieved on September 12, 2023, from iacbe.org/about-page/dimensions-of-quality-in-business-education/