Accreditation and the Online MBA Student: ACBSP
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Posted by: Giles Rafol
December 15, 2011
Finding the right online MBA requires careful consideration of multiple factors: accreditation, faculty, brand recognition, and finances. The search itself needs to be approached cautiously in a businesslike thought process.
"Healthy skepticism is a good thing in any education delivery,” said Doug Viehland, executive director of the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), a specialized agency that evaluates business schools and programs. Viehland has served in his role since 2003.
There are 541 ACBSP-accredited college and graduate business programs in 50 different countries. In order to apply for ACBSP recognition U.S. schools must be regionally accredited. International schools need to provide a letter from their government that certifies the institution is able to grant degrees.
"Online learning is new way of collaboration in a global economy,” Viehland said. He sees the virtual classroom as a testbed giving students the skills that they will need, first, to decide what kind of learner they are and, second, practice online communication in a global economy.
"I’d like to see more undergraduate programs offer online classes, so their graduates have that experience,” Viehland said. "Some students wouldn’t learn as well in an online environment. There are other students who aren’t as disciplined, that might not gain as much from an online program.”
Viehland said he sees more adult learners choosing to pursue an online MBA program over the next decade.
He has also been encouraged by schools like Virginia Tech, which introduced online classes as an option at the undergraduate level, allowing the students to experiment with the delivery method. Through discovery, students decide if online learning is right for them.
Students aren’t the only ones increasingly testing the online waters.
"For myself, after teaching in the classroom for 20 years, I thought to myself ‘If I don’t start getting online, I’m going to fall behind in the world’ and ‘I need to do this to stay current with what’s happening in higher education’,” said ACBSP Director of Admissions Steve Parscale. "Today, I think you’ll find thousands of teachers saying that every year. As a result, more of them are learning how much more work it is – for students and faculty.
"There are not many institutions that don’t have some kind of online learning. I think negative stereotypes are fading rapidly. Now even people that are being hired to work in higher education earned their doctorate degrees online,” Parscale said.
Tips to Educate Yourself
For students, the first step in exploring an online MBA program is to educate themselves about accreditation.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is a federally-supported agency that accredits the accreditors. CHEA regulations state that business schools accreditors cannot differentiate the way they look at online programs or schools. For example, ACBSP must examine the University of Phoenix under the same microscope it evaluates a brick-and-mortar school like Iowa Wesleyan College.
Viehland says students can educate themselves by:
• Making sure the MBA program is accredited, regionally and specialized (i.e. has a business school accreditation)
• Ask about placement rates
• Dig deeper – Ask schools how they define statistics like rates and if they are being audited by a third party
• Ask about faculty’s commitment to the online delivery format
• Test drive online learning for a semester.
"Go into your first class and see how you experience it, and then evaluate,” said Viehland. "Be alert to what’s happening in that world and see if it’s the right fit for you.”
Viehland adds online business schools can help themselves produce better MBAs by surveying employers and seeing if their former students have been adequately prepared for the working environment.
What is ACBSP?
The ACBSP adheres to the Baldridge Performance Excellence Program. The Baldridge education criteria help institutions define, monitor, understand and evaluate student outcomes and growth. The ACBSP began using this method in 1998.
The ACBSP tests student outcomes in online programs by pre-and post-testing students, gauging the amount of course work digested. Then, the ACBSP compares that data to test scores either within the brick-and-mortar university or to other online colleges.
The ACBSP exists, not to rival long-time business school accreditors Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the accrediting body of traditional business schools like Harvard, but to provide accreditation using different, student-focused criteria including student test scores and grades.
Unlike the AACSB, the ACBSP looks at individual programs, i.e. undergraduate, MBA degree programs, accounting, and also offers accreditation to fully-online schools, such as the University of Phoenix.
– Alanna Stage, @alannatweets
NOTE: Steve Parscale is the Director of Accreditation for ACBSP