Choosing an online MBA program will be among the most important decisions one can make and experts concur that knowing about a school's accreditation - official recognition of the program's quality by an independent body - will allow students to better understand the value of the degree for which they are paying.
At first glance, most online MBA programs appear to be similar though they may vary according to delivery model, mode of interaction, course length, academic requirements, and cost.
While each of these is an important dimension to consider when selecting an online program, there is one factor that is vital for potential students to consider before all others - the program's level of accreditation.
And all reputable programs, business education professionals agree, should openly provide information on their accreditation status.
There are a number of organizations, both in the United States and worldwide, which accredit universities in general and business programs in particular. Educational institutions which earn accreditation confirm their commitment to the quality of their programs and ongoing improvement through a strict and comprehensive peer review.
"At its most basic level, accreditation is an external validation process to measure institutions of higher learning against established standards to ensure a consistently high level of academic quality," says Dr. LeClair of AACSB.
Accreditation carried out by most organizations is based on two key components. First is a continuous self-assessment process in which the school must document its overarching strategic plan and prove that its decisions on such issues as resource allocation, faculty hiring, and curriculum development support the plan.
Secondly, the school is subjected to a recurring peer review in which a team of experts evaluate the school against a set of accreditation-related standards.
These standards require that each school has a well-defined and stated mission which supports decision making, has a set of clearly identified goals in place to measure student learning, delivers a high-quality academic experience, and has faculty members sufficient in number and qualifications.
The process establishes that courses are taught by well-qualified faculty and that the students, who are investing good money and up to two years of their lives, will graduate with the knowledge and skills needed for advancing their careers.
By understanding what accreditation is, how it works, and making a point to include it among other selection criteria, prospective students will be able to avoid the increasing number of 'diploma mills' popping up everywhere and be confident that they will receive value for money.