2 teachers' degrees under fire

Discussion in 'Accreditation Discussions (RA, DETC, state approva' started by deanhughson, Aug 1, 2005.

  1. deanhughson

    deanhughson New Member


    Sunday, July 31, 2005

    2 teachers' degrees under fire

    Huron Schools disputes awarding of doctorates from online, unaccredited college.

    By Dorothy Bourdet / The Detroit News

    Red flags

    The Better Business Bureau tells people to look for these signs that a college or university is too good to be true:

    • Degrees can be earned in less time than at a traditional college.

    • A list of accrediting agencies that sounds a little too impressive. Some schools list accreditation by organizations that are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, or imply official approval by mentioning state "registration" or licensing. When in doubt, check with the Council on Higher Education Accreditation at www.chea.org.

    • Offers that place heavy emphasis on college credits for lifetime or real-world experience.

    • Tuition paid on a per-degree basis, or discounts for enrolling in multiple degree programs. Traditional colleges charge by credit hours, course or semester.

    • Little or no interaction with professors.

    • Names that are similar to well-known, reputable universities.

    • Addresses that are box numbers or suites.

    Source: The Better Business Bureau

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    HURON TOWNSHIP -- After about a year of haggling, Huron School District officials are heading into binding arbitration with two teachers who earned degrees from an online university and want the pay raises they say should come with them.

    Jennifer Fox, a high school English teacher, and Aileen Thorington, a high school math teacher, earned degrees that could boost their salaries by $7,000 to $14,000. District officials argue that because the degrees came from Mississippi-based Cambridge State University, which is not accredited by a state-approved agency, the teachers don't deserve the pay hikes.

    "The school board felt these degrees weren't bona fide degrees, and we didn't believe it appropriate to pay these teachers additional money for ... degrees that were obtained from a very questionable agency," said Ken Appleby, school board vice president.

    The teachers, however, believed their degrees -- and the Cambridge State program -- were legitimate, and district officials did approve their study at the school before knowing if it was accredited.

    It's one of the first public cases in Michigan of teachers using advanced degrees from what district officials consider to be, at best, an illegitimate school and, at worst, a diploma mill.

    The case goes to arbitration Sept. 20 as a new state law cracking down on the manufacturers and users of fake degrees takes effect.

    The Authentic Credentials in Education Act, signed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm less than two weeks ago, makes it illegal to manufacture fake academic credentials or use them to get a job, promotion or loan.

    A person or institution stung by someone using a fake degree can sue for up to $100,000 or actual damages, whichever is greater. It's unclear if or how the new law could affect the Huron case. But as lawmakers tackle the problem on the state level, parents in Huron Township have concerns that hit very close to home.

    Kelly Kwiecien's daughter, Kassie Williams, 14, will head to Huron High School this fall, and Kwiecien is worried that teachers cutting corners to get degrees set a bad example for students.

    "Are these teachers going to teach her the right way or the wrong way?" asked Kwiecien. "It's just not worth it. If you're not going to earn it the right way, then don't get it."

    Appleby agrees.

    "We're trying to teach our kids, and we don't want them cheating on tests. We want them to do their homework; we want them to work for it. When we allow our educators to take shortcuts, I think it sends a bad message," he said.

    But Huron Education Association President Mary Elton said Fox and Thorington did not try to cut corners and did substantial work for their Cambridge doctorates, including lengthy dissertations.

    "This was an awful lot of work, which is why nobody knew (it was an unaccredited institution)," Elton said. "This was definitely not a pay-a-fee-and-get-your-diploma-in-the-mail. These people did not do that."

    For students who hold a master's degree, minimum work for a doctorate degree is 60 credit hours including a dissertation, according to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Fox and Thorington took 30 credit hours of classes and wrote dissertations.

    Debbie Baer, assistant attorney general in Louisiana's consumer protection division, who was instrumental in shutting down Cambridge State University's operation in the state in 1998, called the school a "diploma mill." The school has been barred from operating in Louisiana and Hawaii.

    "We realized everything they did was a complete fraud," Baer said. "It was a scam on a huge scale."

    Fox declined to comment, and Thorington did not return phone calls to The Detroit News. Officials from Cambridge State, contacted at a phone number in Jackson, Miss., did not return phone calls. In a grievance form sent to the district last year, Elton points out that neither the teachers' contract nor district officials said anything about accreditation, and officials raised no objections to the teachers' intentions, which they had clearly outlined. Superintendent Thomas Hosler said he recognizes the district's failure to check out the school first.

    "It's one of those situations where I wish we could hit rewind and go back and check that," he said. "I think the teachers made assumptions, and I think the district made assumptions."

    If an arbitrator rules in the teachers' favor, district officials have estimated that during Fox and Thorington's careers, the district could have to pay them each $100,000 to $200,000 more for the Cambridge State degrees.

    "It is an issue that goes far beyond our school walls. There is a proliferation (of these kinds of institutions)," said Hosler.

    Experts estimate that unaccredited schools and the diploma mill industry is worth about $1 billion, with more than 300 unaccredited universities operating in the states and about 200 fake accrediting agencies.

    John Bear, a former consultant to an FBI diploma mill task force and author of "Bear's Guide to Distance Learning," said the battle is moving to the state level as legislators pass laws to deal with the problem of fake universities and degrees.

    "There is a small but growing trend of states saying we will never stop the fake school (from operating), but we can legislate against using fake degrees," Bear said.

    State Sen. Thomas George, R-Kalamazoo, sponsored the bill that created the new diploma mill law and said it's about time Michigan took steps to curb the problem.

    "Many of these (institutions) will give you credit for life experience, which might include movies you've seen, books you've read, jobs you've held or volunteer work you've done," George said. "It is a growing problem and that's why it needs to be regulated."

    One thing both Hosler and Elton agree on is that the teachers are committed and care about their students.

    "The teachers involved have been very good teachers for the district," said Hosler.

    You can reach Dorothy Bourdet at (734) 462-2203 or [email protected].
  2. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    This (Cambridge State) isn't an online school. First, it isn't a school. Second, the only thing that occurs online is the financial transaction to obtain the diploma.

    Don't we have a thread with guidelines about posting entire articles?
  3. italiansupernova

    italiansupernova New Member

    I have a few problems with the BBB's "red flags" list.

    1. "Degrees can be earned in less time than at a traditional college." Well, let's see... that makes American InterContinenal, Colorad Tech, Kaplan, The Big Three, and a host of others with accelerated programs look suspect.

    2. "Offers that place heavy emphasis on college credits for lifetime or real-world experience." This statement is a little too generic for my tastes especially considering The Big Three are heavily involved with granting real-world experience.

    3. "Addresses that are box numbers or suites." Again, American InterContinental makes the list because AIU Online's address lists a suite number.

    Just me...
  4. oxpecker

    oxpecker New Member

    Hmmm... Then maybe these red flags are useful after all!
  5. 3$bill

    3$bill New Member

  6. Bill Huffman

    Bill Huffman Well-Known Member

    Cambridge State University is in the Diploma Mill chapter of Bears' Guide. I suspect that there may be exaggeration of how much work had to be done to earn these degrees.
  7. Guest

    Guest Guest

    What? It was unaccredited because it wasn't accredited.
  8. GeneralSnus

    GeneralSnus Member

    After searching for "Cambridge State University", I found an Associate Dean at a regionally accredited state community college who holds her PhD from there.
  9. Lerner

    Lerner Well-Known Member

    This really brings a blow to real non traditional schools that award
    some credit for portfolio, maybe some credit based on work - testing out etc.
    Another perfect example of how diploma mills hurt legitimate non traditional universities.

    This is very biased and maybe uninformed trend that will make legitimate non traditional schools suffer in their reputation.

    I'm all for remooving the mills but if they were objective they should have stated that there are legiytimate and fully accredited DL Universities that can shorten and accelerate time the degree is earned, What about UNISA research Ph.D or other European research Ph.D.

    Are Traditional trying to send double message to reduce places such as WGU, AIU etc?
    Credit for Work Experience is Fully Legitimate as long as its done in accredited university such as Western Governers.
    To me it sounds like kill the mills and take non traditional legitimate schools with it. This people would shut down Union in a moment, well Union changed so maybe in the past if they could.

  10. uncle janko

    uncle janko member

    Hang 'em high as Haman. They knew bloody well what they were doing.
  11. Lerner

    Lerner Well-Known Member

    "Many of these (institutions) will give you credit for life experience, which might include movies you've seen, books you've read, jobs you've held or volunteer work you've done," George said. "It is a growing problem and that's why it needs to be regulated."

    So is TEC is a mill for awarding credit for portfolio?

    In the case of the teachers it apears to be milled degrees.
    But the statement is broad and incompases legitimate non traditional schools.

  12. PatsFan

    PatsFan New Member

    I agree. This wasn't their first college degree. They were irresponsible to not explore the ramifications of an unaccredited degree.
  13. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    I have to assume you mean "TESC."

    In short, no. Awarding credit not for experience, but for experiential learning, is not unusual. One does not receive credit for attending a movie. But one might be permitted to demonstrate collegiate-level learning resulting from such an experience, if sufficient and credit-worthy.

    Nothing millish about that.
  14. Ultimale

    Ultimale New Member

    Portfolio Assessment is done at many Universities, not just DL. It is also not the easy road that people infer. I did it a couple of times and felt it was a pain the the A%$!

    The Portfolio Assessment process requires as much work or more than some of the traditional classes I took at a B & M college.

    You don't just get credit for watching a movie or playing guitar. The process generally requires 10-16 weeks to complete, a ton of writing, a ton of proving your point. The student must research RA universities, the specific classes, and then ultimately prove that they have a comparable level of knowedge. This process requires countless pages of writing, certificate presentation, pay stubs, various foms of proof, and demonstration of the materials demonstrate that you have met the objectives of the respective class you are attempting to earn credit.

    The media and some individuals that know nothing about PA/PLA make it seem like it is a breeze, it is not.
  15. DesElms

    DesElms New Member

    Truer words rarely spoke... er... I mean... written. Pay heed, all. Ultimale is dead-on on this, despite his stupid username (just ribbin' ya'... relax!). By the time one digs back through one's life and documents all that one's proffering for consideration, one could have just taken the damned course(s) and been done with it.

    It's a little like flying to just about anyplace that's very much less than 500 or so miles away, especially if one lives an hour or more's drive from the airport: By the time one drives to the airport and gets there long enough before the flight that one can get parked, get one's luggage where it needs to be, gets checked-in, and then gets through beefed-up security and, finally, to the gate; and then by the time one waits there for a while before boarding; and then by the time one sits on the plane on the tarmac waiting to take off; and then, of course, by the time one endures the flight time itself; and then all of the foregoing, but basically in reverse to get to one's destination, one could have damned near driven it and both endured less stress and avoided having to rent a car (that probably won't be there so one's forced to upgrade) once one gets there!

    Trust me on this, people: If you live more than one (1) hour from the airport, you can pretty much draw a 500 to 700 mile circle around your house on a map; and then if you ever need to be anywhere within said circle that can be driven to using mostly four-lane or wider highways, you'll be better off driving. However many minutes sooner you could have gotten there by air -- especially if the destination is, itself, an hour or more from the destination airport -- is easily offset by the value of the ease and lack of stress of just listening to some good music, enjoying the scenery, and setting the cruise control instead of all that crap you gotta' do to fly... including the joke that car rental has become.

    Personally, if I gotta' be somewhere at which I don't have to wear a business suit; and if whatever I gotta' take with me can be shipped or will fit in the clamshell trunk of my Honda Pacific Coast motorcycle, I'll ride up to 1,000 miles (mostly 'cause it's not the destination, but the trip that matters to bikers) rather than endure the humiliation and stress of flying these days. And even if I can't ride and have to drive something with four wheels, I'll still drive anything up to maybe 600 miles or so. I get some of my best thinking done while driving... and I like the adventure. But I'm digressing again.

    Anyway... just taking courses (or CLEPping/DSSTing out of them if one can possibly do it) instead of screwing around with PLA is alot like driving instead of flying to relatively nearby locations. One gets there nearly as fast and probably more easily.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 6, 2005
  16. mcdirector

    mcdirector New Member

    I got six hours credit for experiential learning via a portfolio and the classes would have been easier! I also had NO interaction with anyone. I wrote the thing (agonizingly), sent it in and got my credit. No comment, no return, no nothing. Not very rewarding educationally.

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