A proposal for a way to rate unaccredited schools

Discussion in 'Accreditation Discussions (RA, DETC, state approva' started by John Bear, Nov 6, 2005.

  1. John Bear

    John Bear Senior Member

    I'd be interested in reactions to, and perhaps a discussion about, this idea. It's not a new one. I described it five years ago in the 14th edition of Bears' Guide as something I hoped to do, but not yet.

    1. People earn degrees either because they intend to use them (school, job) or for self satisfaction

    2. Degrees are usable to the extent they are accepted by gatekeepers and decision-makers in schools and organizations (especially registrars and HR people), and to the extent they don't cause embarrassment.

    3. Acceptance is not always a simple matter of yes or no.

    4. There is a close parallel, I believe, with credit ratings. They used to be extremely complex things, where lenders had different policies, gave more (or less) weight to certain factors, and so on. But along came the Fair Isaac company, with a plan to simplify all of this with a complex algorithm resulting in a single number, the FICO score: a three-digit number between 300 and 850 that has gained very wide acceptance in the lending world as a decision-making tool.

    In its simplest manifestion, I suggest assembling a panel of decision-makers from the academic world, and another from the business world; perhaps a third from the non-profit and government world.

    They would be asked to rate each school on a five-point scale. "I would accept those degrees/credits

    An algorithm would turn those ratings into a single score for each school -- or, more accurately, one score for academic, and one for business. Perhaps 0-100. Perhaps non-obvious numbers as with FICO (and SAT and so forth).

    (My friend Brad, who has helped me clarify my thinking on this plan, proposed calling it the FACO score, but he was not serious, I think. A bit perjorative. For now, I'll call it the SAI -- the School Acceptance Index. Name suggestions welcome.)

    So in the 0-100 model, every school would have a two-number rating (academic, business).
    A school like Almeda might (for the sake of argument) be 3/17.
    A school like California Coast might be 43/61.
    A school like University of Phoenix might be 94/99.

    I could envision the SAI as being of value to decision-makers

    both to individuals considering a school and decision-makers and gatekeepers, not as an absolute, but, as with FICO, as a tool that is part of a process.

    Some organizaions might say "Nothing under 90 considered." Others might say that anything between 50 and 90 will be looked at, to see what other factors are present. And so on.

    People looking for a school would have a means for comparison, and would have an idea of what they might be in for. And, just as many people undertake an online law degree knowing that fewer than 20% of such people will ever become lawyers, so will some people take a chance on a lower-rated school for a variety of reasons.

    So . . . what do you think?
  2. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Since human beings would be asked the questions, I think such a system would have to be checked for possible survey autism effects, et cetera, to find possible inverse or other correlations between the alma mater of the person scoring and the numerical value given.

    In other words -- it would likely require a doctoral dissertation level of research + about 10 +/- 5 years of hammering out in the refereed literature to determine the psycho-cultural influences involved in the final scores, before corrections could be made to the algorithm involved in generating the score.

    Which is to say, since random samples would not be used to determine the scores -- the survey groups would have to be fully understood before the scores had meaning. In the last 10 +/- 5 years, how much is known about one particular group as pertains to their ability to make such calls?

    A good cross-section would have to be selected, yadda yadda -- or it would be impossible to determine what the scores "mean" on any given day of the week.

    However, something along the lines of that could likely be investigated, such that my future grandchildren might benefit from it.
  3. w_parker

    w_parker New Member

    Dr Bear I do believe your index has not just merit, but utility. There are those who learn for the sake of learning, but, in the case of a degree for those who learn just for the sake of learning, is there really a need for a degree? A degree in itself carries weight, and if the degree is from a source that is questionable, so will the persons knowledge be in question who names the degree as their creditial. As I have said in the recent AACSB question, the school name and reputation is a factor that often carries more weight than any set of initials that accompany your degree. In my opinion, a degree should be accredited, from a DOE recognized entity, otherwise you should just receive a transcript documenting your classes.

  4. DesElms

    DesElms New Member

    Some thoughts and questions...

    Does the assessment require consent/participation of the school?

    If the school must consent/participate, what's in it for the school?

    If the school must consent/participate, then wouldn't schools that know they wouldn't score highly just not participate? And if that happens, then wouldn't there simply be schools that have scores, and schools that don't. If so, then the schools with scores would, no doubt, have high scores and would, therefore be good schools; and the schools with no scores would, no doubt, be not so-good-schools.

    If so, then isn't that much like what we have right now? We have schools that are accredited, and schools that aren't. The schools with accreditation are good schools; and the schools with no accreditation are not-so-good schools.

    If, on the other hand, the assessment does not require the consent/participation of the school, then wouldn't it be difficult to get access to the kind of information that the assessors would need to know in order for their scores to be really meaningful?

    If the things being assessed are public information and easily accessible or even observable, is such information sufficiently meaningful to make the ultimate scores both meaningful and useful?

    And if the school's neither consenting or participating, who's seeding and maintaining your legal defense fund for all the lawsuits that will be filed against you for defamation, tortious interference, etc., once your low scores are published? They don't have to win to bankrupt you... they only need to deposition and pre-trial motion you until you've had to sell the house, your car and your Weber Kettle just to pay your lawyers.

    Now... on the flipside: Restaurants, or the producers of plays or movies, don't consent to or participate in the process of their being reviewed/rated by critics. Computer companies don't always participate in reviews published on the c|net web site. Etc. It's not like there's no precedent for publishing reviews, assessments, ratings or quality scores of products or services... and without the purveyors of said products or services consenting or participating.

    But that doesn't mean you won't get sued. Anyone with a hundred bucks and a hard-on can sue anyone else... and cost said anyone else tons of money even if only to get the case dismissed pre-trial.

    I'm not saying that would happen. I'm just saying it should be anticipated... just in case.

    I'm not trying to be negative or anything like that. Those are just the first round of questions/thoughts that immediately came to mind in my tired, ready-for-bed, not-thinking-terribly-clearly state. I'm sure I'll have more... or may subsequently, when I'm more awake, realize that what I've already written was dumb. One never knows.

  5. BillDayson

    BillDayson New Member

    I think that unaccredited schools often have niche applications that are more precisely defined than a crude 'academic world', 'business world' panel could possibly capture.

    The National Test Pilot School might be pretty obscure in the in the 'academic world' and the 'business world', but it might nevertheless be the best non-government school on earth for aerospace firms looking for a particular kind of expertise.

    A particular non-accredited seminary might not budge the meter of either 'academic' or 'business', but it might be the best (or even the only) way to become ordained in the denomination that runs it.

    It seems to me that a great deal of information is already available. Just Google the school. You will quickly see what professional organizations, other universities, the trade press and government regulators are saying about the school. You will see what kind of intellectual life the school has, who is working there, what facilities it boasts, what kind of work people are doing, who is citing that work, who else is collaborating in it, what awards and grants have been won, who is hiring whatever graduates it produces, what kind of positions they hold, and much more (some of it probably rather technical and discipline-specific.)

    Your proposal might work if you focused it on generic unaccredited DL MBA programs or something specific like that. I suppose that's what's of most interest to Degreeinfo's readership. But I'm not convinced that you could treat all non-accredited schools regardless of what kind of programs they offer in a one-size-fits-all manner. (It probably wouldn't work in religion, another perennial DI favorite. Too many specific niches.)
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 6, 2005
  6. Bill Huffman

    Bill Huffman Well-Known Member

    It would be GREAT for the public/schools/employers to have this kind of information.

    My only concern/question is how to build the numbers. How much effort goes into the US News ratings that comes out every year and that really only covers a small subset of the total number of schools. Here's a list. Many of the issues that concern me have already been mentioned.

    1. I believe that most schools are typically better known locally and so the SAI would be much better locally. Perhaps four sets of numbers?

    2. Bill D's point that specialized schools will have better SAI scores within their community of speciality, various religions being an excellent example.

    3. DesElms mentions potential harassing lawsuits. I would guess that the greatest danger here would be from the unaccredited crowd?

    4. Collecting the necessary information would probably be very difficult especially for the unaccredited schools.

    5. Who would pay for all this work to be done? I could see that after it got established perhaps a fee could be charged each school. Until it was established though, the schools probably wouldn't be willing to pay. It would need to get jump started somehow. I don't see a method to pay for it the first few times?
  7. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Much of the acceptability of unaccredited degrees in business is due to misunderstanding the nature of these schools--businesses don't realize they're unaccredited, or don't understand accreditation. Will the panel members operate from clarity or ignorance? And if they operate from clarity, they will have to decide whether or not to rate some forms of accreditation over others.

    This will be the tail wagging the dog.

    If the panel decides that DETC and RA are equal, for example, then schools from both would have comparable scores, all other factors being equal. In essence, the panel would dictate to businesses how acceptable this kind of accreditation should be. Or.....

    If the panel decides that, because degrees from DETC-accredited schools are less acceptable to employers (to whatever extent), they score lower, doesn't this cement the current condition? What is added?

    My survey of HR professionals demonstrated that, when information about each type of institutional recognition was provided, respondents' reported levels of acceptability for GAAP-level forms of recognition went up, and non-GAAP forms (like state approval) went down.

    Or would the panel do this by weighing school factors, ignoring accreditation entirely?

    I, too, would be concerned about unaccredited schools' information. A way around this is to rate them on the basis of what they do provide--nondisclosure results in a lower rating. But....if necessary information about accredited schools is unavailable, and the same diminishing of ratings occurs, the rating system's credibility could be called into question.

    Then there's the volume factor--there are thousands of degree-granting institutions in the U.S. alone, plus that many again around the world (or more?).

    I like the idea, especially because it will/could show differences between schools recognized at the same level (all RA schools are not alike), and between schools with different forms of recognition. (Does anyone really believe there is a smooth continuum from unaccredited to accredited schools? Everything I've seen indicates there is a huge gulf.)

    Finally, the criteria used in the algorithm would be very interesting to examine.
  8. bing

    bing New Member

    Is there a third option? Do some businesses just not care about accreditation? Obviously government cares. We've seen Hamilton degrees get the whack in government and that a cop might have trouble with a DETC degree in police forces. Personally, in the private world, I have never seen a person get fired in the business world for having an unaccredited degree. Has anyone else?

    In my industry, you have to basically certify to the feds that your people know their stuff enough to discover, manufacture, and market pharmaceuticals. This entails ensuring that updated resumes, with educational credentials, are stored for the auditors to view(and believe me they look). We have employed numerous people, experts in their field, who have had degrees from California Coast(years before accreditation), Pacific Western, and even Columbia Pacific. Not once have the auditors questioned these unaccredited schools. And, it would be an easy potshot for them, too.
    Is AACSB is equal to ACBSP? One seems to be more prestigious but both will generally not close doors(obviously some schools go for profs that are AACSB grads) but business and government don't seem to discriminate much here. Is DETC becoming the ACBSP?
    Rich, did your research delve into distance programs vs brick and mortar? Would HR professionals have such acceptance of a candidate if they found out that the person graduated from a distance program?

    I wonder if I explained to an HR person the difference between AACSB and ACBSP if they would be reluctant to hire an ACBSP grad.
  9. Lerner

    Lerner Well-Known Member

    The idea is interesting, to check the score like with 3 agencies TRW etc.
    How will foreign degrees be handled, the "TRW" will acept only NACES reports as valid credit? "

    Also I don't see in the proposal any room for Career Development programs, Undergraduate, Graduate and Post Graduate certificates, Vocational qualifications etc.

    candidates education can be devided to many important parts and can be a combination of fully accredited RA and PA, accredited RA, Accredited NA and Specialty, GAAP.
    Accredited training - i.e. ACE evaluated credentials such as MCSE, PMI PMP etc.

    Will MIT BS degree have the same value as UoP in points?

    Unaccredited but state licensed - many view as milled for most of the part.

    I personally like the UK BCS aproach.

    This is how UK BCS is looking at things.

    For each full year that you have been involved in working in any aspect of the building, maintenance, management or operation of IT (or have been engaged in teaching or training related to the knowledge and skills appropriate to these activities), allocate 10 points per year.

    If you have spent time on any BCS Accredited Career Development Programme, allocate 10 points per year subject to a maximum of 20 points.

    Academic and Vocational qualifications
    Academic and vocational qualifications attract the number of points indicated by the table of recognised academic & vocational qualifications.

    If you have more than one relevant academic qualification, you should allocate the points for the highest rated qualification only.

    Self Assessment Form

    Academic Points (Max 50)

    Vocational Points (Max 20)


    Relevant Experience @ 10 points per year

    For further information on acceptable experience see definition of relevant experience

    Accredited Training @ 10 points per year (Max 20 points)


    Total Overall Points (A + B)

    Click the relevant response below:
    My score is less than 10 points: Apply for Affiliate, Student or Companion membership
    Find out more about the Affiliate, Student or Companion grades

    My score is 10-49 points: Apply for Associate Membership
    Find out more about the Associate grade

    My score is 50-99 points: Apply for MBCS Membership
    Find out more about the MBCS grade

    My score is 100 points or over: Apply for Chartered Status
    Find out more about Chartered status
    End quote:

    Other UK institutions take it furder, they expect professionals with degrees or without to maintaing PDS, documented Professional Development and Continuing Education.

    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 6, 2005
  10. Guest

    Guest Guest

    5 Point System ??????

    The idea is excellent, John, however, would it be possible to use something different than a five-point scale? Perhaps a four-point or six-point scale? The five-point scale just sounds a bit too hyper-calvinistic for some of us..................:D
  11. John Bear

    John Bear Senior Member

    Thank you for the thoughtful comments and discussion. Just what I had hoped for.

    Overall comment: Perhaps I wasn't clear enough in explaining the concept, since the focus has been on what a panel would do; whether the schools must consent, etc.

    My point is that these decisions are being made by these people (registrars, HR people) every single day, on behalf of their schools or organizations: accept the degree, reject it, or look more closely at it. They do this not as a 'panel' but just in the course of their day's work.

    "All" I want to know is what they are doing: the 10,000 teaching-in-English schools listed in the International Handbook of Universities, and, let's say, the Fortune 10,000.

    This very day, a registrar somewhere is making a decision on Knightsbridge and California Coast, and so is an HR person. For the purposes of this exercise, I don't care how they make their decision, just what their decision is.

    Rich's finding about the many unknowledgeable HR people is important but, I think, irrelevant here. If 23% of them accept Knightsbridge most of the time, so be it. Useful if distressing information.

    This suggests to me that longitudinal results will be most interesting, and thus probably included. "Five years ago, Knightsbridge had ___% acceptance, now in 2011 it has ___%" "The average SAI for DETC schools back in 2006 was ___, and now in 2011 it is ___. "

    Quinn's concern about the research design in general and the construction of the algorithm in particular is indeed crucial. Even though my doctoral work was heavy on research design, and even though I've been discussing this with my friend Bob K, Stanford PhD in math, who has been an algorithm specialist for NASA for 30 years (the 'arm' that satellites use to retrieve space debris is his baby), I would hope and expect that many qualified people would be part of the process, to lend reliability, validity, and credibility. (On the other hand, is anything known about who developed the FICO algorithm?)

    Does the assessment require consent/participation of the school? If the school must consent/participate, what's in it for the school?

    They don't consent now to being accepted or rejected by the registrar at the State University, and only rarely do they squawk. (During my 18 months as fulltime president of Greenwich, I wrote quite a few squawks to schools and organizations on behalf of students or potential students. I had modest success: perhaps 5 or 6 out of about 30, including the Coast Guard and the Univ. of Nebraska -- but always on a case-by-case basis, which might move them from "Never" to "Rarely" on the scale. I believe the law is clear that negative statements are not actionable unless malicious: restaurant reviews, movie reviews, and reporting that 79% of registrars don't usually accept the degree of Belleville University.

    Bill Dayson:
    The National Test Pilot School might be pretty obscure in the in the 'academic world' and the 'business world', but it might nevertheless be the best non-government school on earth for aerospace firms looking for a particular kind of expertise.

    These factors are important. If the NTPS degree was only accepted 'always' by one of 300 company HR people, and that one company was Boeing, that is crucial information. The best I can think of at the moment is a Zagat-like approach: mostly numbers, but short pithy text accompanying them, typically quoting feedback: While most diners say the crevette échafaudage is "worth the high price and long wait," others suggest "the snooty waiters are quite off-putting." Not necessariy for every school, but perhaps a line or two, when relevant, as with the NTPS, might work.

    Also perhaps for things in the other direction, thus addressing some of Rich's concerns: While "the campus is a UPS store", says the Detroit Free Press, acceptance may be high because of accreditation by ACI ("an accreditation mill" says Levicoff). But the negative stuff, however provable, would certainly increase the chances for law suits, I think.

    Bill H:
    Who would pay for all this work to be done?

    As I have mentioned here, and report in the Degree Mills book, I have been doing consulting since last fall for USIS (United States Information Services), the largest credential-checking organization in the US (they are the former investigative branch of the Office of Personnel Management, privatized during the 1990s; more than 7,000 employees; www.usis.com). I think it would be a natural for them, and plan to make a presentation early next year.

    A concern about the five-point scale.

    I did my doctoral work at a time when a huge amount of attention was being paid to scales. Charles Osgood's "semantic differential" was the hot topic (his book: The Measurement of Meaning). A seminal paper by George Miller, in the Psychological Review in 1956, is still, I believe, relevant and cogent: "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information" -- and readily findable on the Internet:

    I am not wedded to the five-point concept, although my hunch is that it is most appropriate. Of course we could add a sixth for "Don't know" or "No opinion."

    Again, many thanks for all your comments, past and, I hope, future.

    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 6, 2005
  12. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Because unaccredited DL schools carry with them the possibility of having one's career ruined I think it's time to quit trying to evaluate this rubbish. Didn't we just get through thrashing an Irish boffin with a PWU degree?

    With due respect to all I just don't understand the point of the ongoing accredited vs. unaccredited debate.There is no debate if the "time bomb" element of the unaccredited degree is factored in.

    Not personally because in my 25 years on the job I was the only one I ever saw with a DL degree. Just because your company doesn't care or pay attention doesn't mean others don't. In my field I know for a fact that when a degree is required it usually must be accredited. I don't imagine private companies post firings in newspaper articles anyway so we might not ever know.

    The unaccredited however are fairly routinely fired from public sector jobs. Isn't that evidence enough of their risk?

  13. bing

    bing New Member

    There are obviously varying degrees of utility for unaccredited schools. Let's not bring up LBU and SCUPS again. These schools don't seem to be time-bombs. Certainly mills are the rubbish you talk of. Are you talking about mills, though? We do have an entire category on the forum devoted to "Accredited vs State-Approved vs Unaccredited". It's worth discussing.
    The risk seems to be in the public sector from what I see. Given that we don't see examples, or aren't aware of any, in the private sector, I think you have to take a small jump to say that the risk carries over the private sector.

    Degrees of any type might be cause for a company to pay more money to an employee. If they have experience, and a non-accredited degree, all the better for a company. Hire them in at a cheaper price.

  14. decimon

    decimon Well-Known Member

    A.P. Giannini, for instance.

    FICO will be modified or abandoned as its users assess its efficacy. IMO, your SAI is quite different in that it measures a conventional wisdom and will serve to embed same.

    Lenders, if they are to remain in business, are forced to endure a process that includes FICO. The incentive for educational evaluators is to rely on the most convenient measure (SAI, in this case) to the exclusion of other factors.
  15. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member


    These things come to my feverish brain:

    -The proposed evaluation process cannot be equated to movie reviews or restaurant ratings. Why? Because there can be no doubt whatever in a rational person's mind that such reviews and ratings are one person's OPINION. Opinions are not actionable.

    Now, the proposed system wilpurport to assign ratings based on more-or-less objective criteria, more like the U.S. News law school rankings. But U.S. News is NEVER in the position of really "trashing" a law school; all the schools they rank are accredited, all are acceptable, none is a fraud.

    The proposed system WILL be in the position of calling a fraud a fraud in a public fashion. As Dr. Bear says, it's more akin to credit reporting scores.

    Except it isn't. Here's why: Any targeted school will be able to claim that its low ratings are at least in part a CONSEQUENCE of earlier low ratings. A feedback effect, as it were. Therefore:

    -make the process absolutely transparent and allow public access to all data (for a fee, of course). Make very, very clear EXACTLY the basis upon which a rating is determined in each and every case. And make it as absolutely objective as possible; no room for "judgment calls" (which means, "no room for malice").

    -allow a school to make its own comments on the ratings report (within reason.

    You WILL be sued; the average mill operator has gobs of cash for the purpose. But if the program is carefully engineered, the truth of the rating will be immediately apparent to any Court. And, of course, the fact of the suit and its outcome is perfectly public data as well...

    As always, consult your own legal expert BEFORE taking any action!
  16. decimon

    decimon Well-Known Member

    Re: Hm.

    The Sun WILL rise, the Earth WILL turn and Dr. Bear WILL be sued by mill operators.
  17. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member

    "...and all is right with the world."
  18. Guest

    Guest Guest


    Why would anyone want to earn a degree that is privately but not publicly accepted? What kind of uncomfortable situation would that be to live with? Basically you'd be sneaking around hoping no one will say anything. That would be pathetic. And as Rich has pointed out much of that acceptability comes from ignorance.

    Is SCUPS immune from problems? Oregon only approves one SCUPS program. What about the rest? Are they illegal in Oregon?
  19. NikolasHorthy

    NikolasHorthy New Member

    Idea and terms used

    This is a terrible idea, as it is objective...this would allow for the shills to "pump up " a school for their own means...As for the term GAAP Rich this is an accounting term meaning Generally Accepted ACCOUNTING proc. Maybe next time Dr. Bear could use a real scientific model. Respectfully submitted. Nikolas Horthy
  20. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    "Disrespectfully submitted" is more like it.

    This thread has been a very useful exercise in exporing how schools might be rated in terms of degree acceptability. Dismissing of that with a couple of poorly chosen words by a first-time poster hardly changes things.

    "GAAP" is used frequently on this board to describe forms of recognition that are equivalent to U.S. accreditation. Bear reported first hearing at used at an AACRAO event. "Generally Accepted Accreditation Principles" is the meaning, and I have no doubt it was put to use because of the familiarity with accounting's "GAAP."

    A search of "Generally Accepted Accreditation Principles" on Google nets 63 hits, most of which are not on this board. It seems the term has measurable usage elsewhere, despite your criticism. Perhaps you could let all of those agencies know they're misusing it as well?

    By the way, as long as we're insisting on correctly using terms, the "P" in accounting's "GAAP" stands for "Principles," not "Procedures." (Or whatever you meant by "proc.")

    NikolasHorthy: " Maybe next time Dr. Bear could use a real scientific model."

    Rich Douglas: Perhaps you could suggest one as an alternative. We would all benefit from such a significant contribution to this thread.

    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 8, 2005

Share This Page