Like many employers in these litigious times, I am limited how, and to what extent, I can verify the information a job applicant provides. This is especially true in the case of job references. Many organizations, when contacted, will do nothing more than confirm dates of employment. I do however, routinely contact any school a job applicant claims granted him or her a degree. I never had any difficulty verifying this information until now…

A few weeks ago, someone requested that I corroborate their claim that they were a currently enrolled student at Century University. As a favor, I called Century University to verify this individual’s enrollment. A pleasant young lady answered the phone. As if the question had never arisen before, she appeared dumbstruck by my request. She placed me on hold, and, after a brief wait, a gentleman by the name of Eldon Johnson came on the line. (I can only surmise that this was none other than Eldon C. Johnson, Ed.D, Dean of Instruction, and author of the open welcome letter to all prospective students on Century’s Web site. (What I did to deserve such a high-level individual respond to my simple query, I don’t know. )

Dr. Johnson was curt and his tone defensive; he demanded to know who I was and what I wanted. I politely repeated my request to verify if a certain individual was enrolled as a student. He asked me if I had a waiver, in writing, from the student. I told him I was calling at the student’s behest, and that the only information I needed was to confirm whether the individual in question, was indeed, a currently enrolled student at Century University, nothing else. He told me that I had to send in a written waiver (?) from the student before they would release any information. I asked if he meant that my request had to be in writing, and he said no. I asked if the request had to come from the student, and he said that what he required wasn’t just a request; he needed a written waiver from the student.

Although he sounded increasingly more exasperated as the conversation progressed, I pointed out that I had never encountered this kind of difficulty verifying the status of an enrolled student or alumnus at any institution of higher learning. He stated, quite emphatically, that no university would verify enrollment without a similar waiver. I asked if this was something new, because in over 17 years, this was the first time I had ever encountered such a requirement. He sarcastically responded, “Yeah, maybe it’s something new, but we need a written waiver anyway.” I politely thanked him for his time.

As I am not one to mistrust the veracity of anyone’s statements without research and evidence of my own, I decided to conduct a simple experiment; I would call the Registrar at another (regionally accredited) institution of higher learning and attempt to verify if a student was enrolled. After a brief Web search for the phone number, I picked up the phone and placed a long distance call. The young lady who answered my call immediately transferred me to the appropriate department, as if she received many similar requests every day. Similarly, the next person I talked to, cheerfully verified the correct spelling of the name of the individual I was enquiring about, and, within moments, informed me that no such individual was currently enrolled. I asked if it was possible that such a named individual (a very unique name, incidentally) had ever been enrolled or was an alumnus. Although this search took a little longer than the first, she informed that the results of the search were negative, but suggested that it could be possible that the individual was a student at the university’s extension program, and asked me if I would like her to transfer my call. Although I was certain that a search there would also come up empty, I said yes. I was curious to see if anyone would balk at my request. Needless to say, the next individual was even more helpful, checking various different spellings of the individual’s name, before confirming that no such person had ever been enrolled.

So, you may ask, what’s the point? It is this. One of the major selling points of many degree mills is their verification service. They claim that they will verify the “degree” you purchased as well as your transcript, in essence, backing you up in your efforts to deceive others that you have legitimate academic credentials. Yet here we have, what many have tried to tout as one of the more legitimate of the unaccredited schools, and they seem to be extremely leery (to say the least) of corroborating an individual’s claim of being an enrolled student without what they describe as a written waiver. The question begging for an answer is, of course, a waiver from what? Liability? Is it a promise to indemnify and hold harmless? What are they concerned about? Is it possible that confirming that you are a student or graduate of Century University could be harmful to your reputation and career?

If Century University, arguably among the upper echelons of the schools that pass GAAS, will not assist students or alumni when an employer attempts to verify their status or credentials, what can be expected from other, even less wonderful, schools?

Of course, it is highly unlikely a regionally accredited school would jeopardize their accreditation by refusing to provide this simple service to an enrolled student or alumnus in a hassle-free and timely manner. For example, in their Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education: standards for accreditation the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools clearly states that among their requirements for accreditation are, “Student services appropriate to the educational, personal, and career needs of the students.” Could this be yet another important difference between accredited and unaccredited schools? After all, what good is a degree, if the only proof you earned it is the fact that you say so? Once again, you might as well print your own.

Gus Sainz