Can Doctorate be Unaccredited?

Discussion in 'Accreditation Discussions (RA, DETC, state approva' started by Bill Huffman, Jul 11, 2003.

  1. Bill Huffman

    Bill Huffman Well-Known Member

    Henrik of KU is responding to a "first question" thread and the interaction with Bill Dayson is touching on a subject that has intrigued me, although I've never seen a good discussion on it.

    Is it even reasonably possible to earn a doctorate from an unaccredited institution? The ingredient that seems to be missing is that I thought that the candidate was supposed to make a significant contribution to his/her field of expertise? The cadidate becomes an expert in their field but they still need to make that contribution before the honor of the doctorate is bestowed. This contribution would be documented in a dissertation. Or if it was a research doctorate then the dissertation is not necessary.

    The problem with the unaccredited route is that the papers seem to rarely get any visibility. How can it be possible for there to be any contribution to the field, if no one reads it? This is relevant to Bill Dayson's point in the other thread because if an institution is active and getting visibility in the wider academic community then you'd expect some evidence in a Google search. KU doesn't seem to have that. But in general, is it reasonably possible for a doctorate to be earned from an unaccredited institution? (Besides a BJU which I believe does get visibility in certain disciplines.)
  2. That's a really good discussion-provoking question.

    My guidance in my doctoral program (been in a couple) was that the dissertation process is described as "standing on the shoulders of giants" - that is, the dissertation should, by leveraging on the previous foundation of knowledge, add incrementally to what the human race knows.

    An excellent example of this is the CIS field. The e-mail and internet features we take for granted today did not spring full-blown from the brow of one person - but rather represent the culmination of many incremental steps (such as the TCP/IP protocol suite).

    So argueably, a PhD from a non-RA school could be just as worthy - or more worthy - that a PhD from an RA school.
  3. cehi

    cehi New Member

    Bill Huffman: "The problem with the unaccredited route is that the papers seem to rarely get any visibility. How can it be possible for there to be any contribution to the field, if no one reads it? "

    Cehi: Regardless of the school, my view is that dissertations are reviewed or read if there are needs for them, especially by those who are planning to learn or expand existing body of knowledge or those who are planning to introduce a new knowledge. If none of those applies, nobody reads them. It used to be a common practice that dissertations from both accredited and unaccredited schools are available at UMI. UMI stopped the acceptance of dissertations from unaccredited schools years ago (thanks to the public outcry from accredited schools). So, eventually, the dissertations from the unaccredited schools became extinct from the public domain because they were now stored somewhere at the limited boundaries of the unaccredited schools.

    Even though UMI still monopolizes the dissertation storage and distribution for students via their respective accredited schools, nowadays, any student can publish their dissertations or view for free, other dissertations at

    Additionally, a student may choose to individually, freely publish his/her dissertation or view other dissertations from individuals whose degree granting schools does not have programs for Eletronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD) at the Networked Digital Library for Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD) website at Granted, there are not many dissertations posted as of now, but the numbers are gradually increasing both at and at etdindividual site.

    These dissertations, I suppose would be freely available to the readers globally. Additionally information is available at Please be reminded that you have to join to post your dissertation.

    In essence, there are no longer access limitations to thousands of dissertations that are out there (depending other routes than UMI are pursued). The readers have to seek for the information. I agree that UMI used to be the dominant route. But, information techonoly has now changed that. Therefore, for those who would like to read these dissertations, the avenues for their availability have widened. It is good that you brought this up for discussion. Thank you.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 11, 2003
  4. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    Some good points have been made in this thread and I would like to add my own thoughts. First, I would point out that while a dissertation is a product, it is also a process. It is a research process that takes place over a period of time. It is common for Chapters to be written and rewritten and rewritten until the advisor is satisfied with the product. It is not clear to me that dissertations that come out of unaccredited schools go through this review-rewrite process. Consequently, the final product may be the result of some substantial effort but it could also be full of holes, mistakes and other sorts of problems. This is essentially the same quality assurance issue that comes up repeatedly in the old accredited v. unaccredited debate. Also, I'd point out that people frequently adapt their dissertation research for publication in relevant professional journals. This too can involve considerable effort as a 200-300 page dissertation is distilled down to a 10-20 page journal article. The point I'm making here is that while this is a common phenomenon with dissertations from accredited schools, I'd bet that it's quite uncommon with dissertations coming out of unaccredited schools. Why is this? Again, my guess is that the original research is not of a high enough quality to meet the publishing standards of a peer-reviewed professional journal.
  5. John Bear

    John Bear Senior Member

    What a potentially valuable resource is ETD. Thank you, cehi, for pointing it out.

    Among the 18 theses and other works deposited there since 1995 is one from California Coast University.

    If I ran a doctorate-granting unaccredited university, and believed in the quality of my students' work, I'd seriously consider the blindfold test idea. Randomly select five of my dissertations, and 5 off the shelf at Harvard. Remove identifying marks. And have a committee of scholars in the relevant field(s) evaluate them -- or at least try to figure out which 5 came from which school. If they turn out to be undistinguishable, what a great marketing edge.
  6. uncle janko

    uncle janko member

    Interesting and useful. Thanks.
  7. cehi

    cehi New Member

    I would like to add that sometimes, the best dissertation may come from any source. It just depend on who is doing the recognition. My experience is that holes, mistakes, and other problems are germane for most dissertations. The goal is to have limitations to these problems. I agree that the roles of the readers or supervising professors are to limit these problems. People have to realize that the "review of literature" chapter is the most prone for erros that are usually less observable to readers or supervisors because it does not establish anything new except that it editorializes existing information, which nobody sometimes, do not want to re-read.

    I cannot decide that all dissertations from unaccredited schools are of bad or good quality. We need to understand that there are numerous methods that may be used for writing dissertations. Some are straightforward qualititative methods and some are straightforward confusing, quantitative methods. Some people think that by using a simple method, it weakens the strength of a dissertation while some people think that a dissertation is a world class because no one can farthom the confusing method used for data analysis. However, I will not hesitate to critique dissertations that falls within my expertise, because I have been exposed to the most common methods that have been universally associated with researches in my field. Overall, I think the data distribution outlets that would enable us to review dissertations from all sources and make the assessments of them, are widening. Thank you.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 11, 2003
  8. Bill Huffman

    Bill Huffman Well-Known Member

    I absolutely agree with the concept of "standing on the shoulders of giants". (plus it is a most delightful image) Perhaps I miss your point but even if an unaccredited dissertation has a concept that would be totally ground breaking and create a whole new field, my point is that without other scholars in the field seeing it and using it, the great idea will whither and die and not ever be made part of the general store of knowledge. No one will ever build on it. Perhaps until it is rediscovered at a later time. It had the POTENTIAL of being a significant contribution to mankind's store of knowledge but if this potential is not realized has that aspect of the doctorate degree really been meet?

    For example, I know that sometimes a candidate is required to present their idea at multiple academic seminars, etc.

    Another query along this line is how many requests from other academic institutions has KU ever received for copies of dissertations?
  9. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    There is no reason why people cannot do quality work in unaccredited programs at any level, including doctoral.

    It is difficult, however, for the candidate at an unaccredited school to make the "significant contribution" that is a fundamental component of earning the doctorate. (Of course, most dissertations get filed away, never to be read again, after graduation. Still, future canditates should consult them when building their own proposals.)

    Perhaps the alternative fora described above will alleviate this. But what assures us that a sufficient review of the candidate's dissertation has taken place? Will these places accept dissertations from any school? May the candidate with a Columbia State Ph.D. file his dissertation next to the one from California Pacific? Who decides?

    Finally, would these dissertations be credible sources of information? As in the previous paragraph, how is it determined that the dissertations from unaccredited schools have been reviewed sufficiently to deem them credible? John's idea of setting up a panel to judge dissertations from an unaccredited school would be nice. But that wouldn't fully address this concern.

    If I was a doctoral candidate, I would not cite as a source a dissertation completed at an unaccredited school unless I knew their academic processes were sufficient.
  10. Bill Huffman

    Bill Huffman Well-Known Member

    I never meant to imply that quality work couldn't get done by individuals at even the worst degree mills.

    The point about citing unaccredited work is another excellent example of why I question the basic validity of an unaccredited doctorate. If the unaccredited work is not available for review and even if available wouldn't be cited then how can it really ever become part of the knowledge of mankind. If Sir Isacc Newton or Albert Einstein had made their brilliant discoveries but no one else ever found out about it then it wouldn't have been a contribution to mankind's knowledge. Another example would be William David Benton. In 1965 he invented an inexpensive enzyme that made cellulous digestible by mammals as part of his unaccredited doctorate. No one has ever heard of him. So I argue that Dr. Benton's doctorate may be bogus because his brilliant work that could have changed the world was never really made part of mankind's store of knowledge.

    There is no Dr. Benton, at least not that I ever heard of but, that is my point. :D
  11. Uhhhh.....

    There's at least one "digital dissertation library" on the internet. I just downloaded one the other day.

    It's not restricted to RA schools. :cool:

  12. BillDayson

    BillDayson New Member

    I think that a Ph.D. from Hsi Lai University is a real Ph.D. Others are free to disagree, but I accept its validity.

    City of hope's Ph.D. in biotechnology only moved out of the CA-approved ranks in 2000 or so, when it was accredited by WASC. But CoH had been a major research medical center for decades before that, and in fact pioneered some of the fundamental molecular biological techniques. I'm sure that they had no trouble at all in getting published.

    The American Film Institute's conservatory only moved out of the CA-approved ranks a year or two ago. While they only offer a masters degree, they obviously had no trouble getting recognition among film studies scholars.

    The Institute of Buddhist Studies (CA-approved) and the Stanford Center for Buddhist Studies cosponsored a conference on 'Language and Discourse in the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism' in September 2001 (a week after 9-11, unfortunately). I expect that the proceedings were published somewhere. IBS is hosting the 11'th Conference of the International Association of Shin Buddhist Studies, which should be taking place very soon.

    OK, what I conclude from my examples is that strong and credible non-accredited programs don't exist in a vacuum. They collaborate. They employ faculty that have reputations. They take part in the informal academic conversations that make other scholars working in the same specialized areas aware of their work.

    If people who work for research institutes that don't offer any degree programs at all can be successful researchers and build reputations, I see no reason why introducing a degree program has to ruin that.

    Obviously the issues here are whether there is any research productivity to begin with, and whether or not the staff and students of the non-accredited schools take an active part in the intellectual life of their field.

    That's one reason why I think that the Google-test is revealing.
  13. Mike Albrecht

    Mike Albrecht New Member

    What a shame

    Having looked at some of the availbe online dissertations (while doing research for my program) I will admit that "some" of the dissertations from non-accredited programs did show some thought and effort.

    The sad part is how much better they could have been under proper supervision! And if they (the "student") could have even enrolled in a South African program, they could have had a "real" PhD for almost the same cost and work!

    What a shame.:(
  14. BillDayson

    BillDayson New Member

    Re: What a shame

    I still say that a lot depends on which non-accredited program one chooses, on what that program is doing and on how it being received.

    The City of Hope only received WASC accreditation for its Ph.D. program in 2001. Prior to that it was CA-approved. It remains the smallest RA school in the WASC territory, with 33 students.

    I did a Google search for ["city of hope" "beckman institute"], and only looked the first page of results, the first ten. They included:

    The CoH Beckman Research Institute's website:

    A paper published in a 2000 compilation (CoH was CA-approved at the time):

    A 2001 journal article:

    A 1999 talk at Cal Tech (CoH was only CA-approved at the time):

    A 1998 Research Grant (CoH was only CA-approved at the time):

    This was only the first page out of hundreds.

    Somebody might object that this isn't fair, that CoH was a major research center with wide recognition long before it decided to roll out a Ph.D. program. But that's just my point.

    Reputation, participation and productivity count for something. Universities don't exist in a vacuum, although many of the non-accredited DL programs create that impression. I think that if a non-accredited school can demonstrate its credibility, can successfully do the university thing, then it can work. Of course, most of them move on to receive accreditation very quickly, but they were already working before that.

    It might be valuable to think about how these accreditation-track state-approved programs differ from our Degreeinfo "usual suspect"-type non-accredited programs. What do the strong programs have that the lame ones don't?
  15. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Credible educational processes?
  16. Bill Huffman

    Bill Huffman Well-Known Member

    Re: Re: Can Doctorate be Unaccredited?

    Excellent post, I think I have to agree with your examples that an unaccredited school can bestow a doctorate. An interesting observation though is that (unless I'm mistaken) the examples you've given are not distance learning doctorates. I'm not saying that an unaccredited distance learning doctorate is not possible, just that I don't believe that I've yet seen an example of a credible distance learning unaccredited doctorate to this point.
  17. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 12, 2003
  18. fnhayes

    fnhayes New Member

    Obviously Jack has not read too many dissertations (if any) from unaccredited universities?
    He should read my piece on the NZ Brown Teal. (This is available by email).
    I've just read a ducky PhD dissertation from a prominent UK university. Whilst this is around 70,000 words, compared to 50,000, the quality (in my eyes) is comparable. Interestingly the UK author has just asked my permission, and that of the Brown Teal Conservation Trust, to use some of the NZ Brown Teal dissertation material in another major paper he is working on.
    'Duck Boy' in 'paradise'. :)
  19. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    You're right, I haven't read any. They're generally unavailable. My post clearly states that there may well be exceptions to the rule. Your fine dissertation may be one of these. However, the rule continues to be the rule and I continue to believe that most doctoral dissertations from unaccredited universities are substandard. The fact that a few good ones exist doesn't mean that they all (or even most) are good. I also believe that it's possible to find dissertations from accredited schools that are substandard. This doesn't mean that most are substandard and it certainly doesn't mean that accredited and unaccredited dissertations are typically of equal quality. BTW what is a brown teal? Also, what school awarded you your PhD?
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 12, 2003
  20. Bill Huffman

    Bill Huffman Well-Known Member

    I have looked at a very few "dissertations" from unaccredited schools and even though they weren't on a topic that I have any real expertise, they were obviously low quality. Good Morning America showed one from a doctor that had a talk show on TV. It was a book report divided up into chapters with about two sentences per chapter. That one was so obviously bad I didn't even need to read it. :D

    Anyway, my real point in referencing the GMA example is that the ridiculous "dissertation" from Columbia State University was still an unaccredited dissertation. It is generally impossible to know if an unaccredited dissertation has had the proper oversight and has gone through the proper academically rigorous process (as pointed out by Rich). Therefore they don't seem to make much impact to the knowledge store of mankind. Although there are exceptions that Bill Dayson has given us for specialist unaccredited institutions that are making a contribution within their own area of expertise. I will also grant Dr. Hayes point that there may also be some exceptions for that rare dissertation from an unaccredited institution where the author has continued to vigorously pursue visibility for his cause.

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