Central University of Nicaragua Degree Scheme

Discussion in 'Accreditation Discussions (RA, DETC, state approva' started by Rich Douglas, Nov 21, 2021.

  1. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    There has been a lot of discussion about the Central University of Nicaragua's agreements with unaccredited schools to produce PhD degrees for graduating at those partner schools. As someone who has no dog in the hunt, I'd like to see if the discussion can be restarted. There are many interesting, even exciting elements to this, but there are also some caveats to consider when contemplating this scheme. This is going to be a mixture of observable facts with some opinions mixed in. I trust readers will be able to discern the difference.

    First, a small bit about your reporter. I've been working in and around nontraditional higher education since 1978, having counseled thousands of working professionals interested in pursuing higher degrees. I've taught for seven universities, some online and some in the traditional classroom. All of my own degrees were earned nontraditionally. My undergraduate degrees were earned primarily by examination. My master's (MBA) was primarily classroom-based (night school). I hold a PhD earned at a nontraditional, short-residency program. In it, I designed my own PhD specializing in nontraditional higher education. I also hold another doctorate where I studied human resource development. My first 6 degrees came from regionally accredited, not-for-profit US universities, while my second doctorate is from a pre-1992 university in the UK. I'm a Professional Certified Coach, a Certified Professional in Talent Development, and a Senior Professional in Human Resources, and I have more than 40 years of talent development experience including 32 years serving my country both in and out of uniform.

    The Universidad Central de Nicaragua (Central University of Nicaragua--NOT "University of Central Nicaragua) is a university in the Central American country of Nicaragua. By all accounts, it is a sincere and legitimate school, established about 25 years ago. The school is properly recognized as a university and, in my opinion, is unremarkable (in a good way).

    On the other hand, the UCN is not ranked by the Times, which lists more than 2,100s universities. But that's not particularly remarkable since there are probably 10,000 or more degree-granting institutions in the world. Also, the national higher education system of Nicaragua is not ranked in the top 100 in the world. But that doesn't mean it can't have schools within it that are of good quality. These are not deal-killers, but worth considering.

    UCN is notable for entering into agreements with unrecognized schools from other countries to award UCN degrees for studies completed at those schools. There is nothing particularly remarkable about such an arrangement; there have been other schools from other jurisdictions who have entered into these "validation" agreements. The result is usually an award (a term frequently used outside the US system) from the unrecognized school (but not always) and from the recognized school. Again, nothing really remarkable about this...provided the underlying process is rigorous and the awarding school exercises its due diligence. In some arrangements, like Empresarial University (Costa Rica), this doesn't appear to be the case. But from what I've seen, this isn't the case with UCN. I have no reason to think there is anything illegitimate about the awards issued by UCN based on work with its partner schools.

    But what about the fact that the degree comes from a foreign school? Well, when UCN was established, decisions about foreign schools' credentials were made on an ad hoc basis, situation by situation. It was during that time that our esteemed colleague, John Bear, introduced a concept he called "GAAP" (Generally Accepted Accreditation Principles--coined from a similar term from accounting.) This captured a concept in use by admissions officials at colleges and universities to judge the veracity of foreign credentials. The big question: was the degree in question from a source comparable to an accredited school in the US? To determine this, several resource books were used, including the Commonwealth Universities Yearbook and the International Handbook of Universities. Being listed in one of these meant your school's degrees would normally acceptable to admissions officials. In fact, the organization of admission officials (AACRAO) provided this service for awhile. But that was then and times have changed.

    Since that time, we've seen the rise of foreign credential evaluation services. They, in turn, have formed an industry group--NACES--attempting to set some standards about this. But there are still significant variations from service to service. Still, if you're a graduate from a foreign university and can produce an evaluation report from a NACES member attesting to your degree's equivalence to one issued by an accredited school in the US, your degree will often be acceptable. But one catch: your mileage may vary. One service may give you a thumbs-up and another will deny you.

    And this is what we've seen (so far) with UCN. We've seen reports of a UCN PhD being evaluated successfully by one NACES member (IEE), yet another (WES) having a standing policy against it. (It is not clear to me if WES's objections stem from the UCN itself, or from the particular scheme we're discussing. That distinction might matter.) If the opportunity you seek using this degree requires the use of a particular service (like WES), you might find yourself frustrated.

    On another note: being evaluated as a foreign university who issues degrees equivalent to those issued by regionally accredited US schools does NOT mean that school is regionally accredited. Foreign degree evaluation services are private companies and have nothing to do with the accreditation process; they do not have the power to award such recognition. (The regional accreditors are recognized by two bodies--CHEA and the US Department of Education--not foreign degree evaluators.)

    Also, it's important to keep in mind that just because a school achieves a particular level of recognition, that doesn't make all the schools at that level equal. Yale and Slippery Rock are both regionally accredited, and no one is saying that makes them equal. Just because a graduate of UCN might be able to obtain a successful equivalency evaluation doesn't mean that degree will be acceptable to employers.

    In sum: a PhD earned this way from UCN appears to be a legitimate degree from an indistinct school part of an indistinct national system. It may or may not be acceptable for employment purposes--in higher education or industry--depending on the judgment of the receiving party. It is clearly less acceptable than a degree from a US university, but there are no universal standards and no way to judge to what extent this is true. Also, your individual experience may vary tremendously, with one person finding it highly useful and another being frustrated.

    Successful candidates earn a legitimate degree.
    There is some evidence that degree can be evaluated as equivalent to degrees awarded by US RA schools.
    The process seems to be relatively inexpensive.
    The degrees--earned in one non-English-speaking country and awarded in another--can be done in English.
    In most situations--perhaps all for some people--no one will know and no one will care.

    The degree comes from a school no one has heard of in a notably non-prestigious national system.
    Some might question earning a degree this way.
    The likelihood of your degree being unacceptable is significantly higher.
    The likelihood your degree will not receive a successful evaluation is very real.


    I'm not interested in the "my degree is better than yours" discussion. It's lame and demeaning to both sides.
    A PhD from UCN appears to be legitimate, presenting no reason to think otherwise.
    The possibility of your degree being rejected is very real.
    The possibility of a regionally accredited degree being unacceptable is real, too. Just not as much.
    We don't know how much more (or less) one degree's acceptability is from the other.
    It's unclear whether the scheme of working on a degree at an unrecognized school to earn this one affects its utility.

    The Big Idea:

    This process (and resulting degree) aren't worthy of criticism. On the other hand, those who have "a dog in this hunt" might tend to overstate things. And THAT is worth a response. (Remember the graduates of NA schools getting all bent because their pronouncements that NA equals RA were refuted? Same dynamic.)

    So, that's it. I'm claiming a particular expertise in this field and I'm using it to examine an interesting and dynamic approach to earning a PhD. I am in no way interested in those who will want to make personal attacks the substitute for cogent arguments and relevant discussion. But there is still more to be understood here, and I hope others will strive to achieve that and to enlighten us all.
  2. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    I have some follow-on questions for those in the know:

    • The SMCU website says: The PhD / Doctorate in Business Administration is being offered jointly with Universidad Central de Nicaragua. What is the degree title? Is it a professional or scholarly degree? Either?
    • Same for Azteca?
    • UCN, being a school from a Spanish-speaking country, would not normally award a "PhD" nor a "DBA," I would think. What is the exact award? How does it read on the diploma? Is the diploma in English or in Spanish?
    • Is the UCN degree a professional degree or scholarly one? Holders of it tend to list it as a PhD--which is a scholarly degree.
    • The current SMCU lists the tuition fee--in Euros. But it doesn't mention any fees or costs associated with getting the UCN degree. One reporter said it was an additional fee. Is it now lumped together, or is the cost of the UCN part of the process in addition to SMCU's inclusive (they say) fee?
    • Why does SMCU charge its fees in Euros when the national currency of Switzerland is the Swiss Franc?
    • Why does SMCU conduct its tuition--in Europe that means instruction, not fees--only in English instead of--or in addition to--one of Switzerland's national languages?
    • SMCU still refers to itself as SMC sometimes?
    • Is SMCU physically located in Switzerland, and does it conduct degree programs there?
    • Why is the PhD a taught degree? This is unusual for European schools, most of whom use the "big book" thesis approach to the PhD. The taught, "small book" approach is sometimes used for professional degrees, or scholarly degrees with alternative titles.
    • What is the actual involvement of UCN? It is an autonomous university in Nicaragua and, as such, can award any degrees it chooses. Okay, but what oversight does it exercise in terms of the degrees it awards through this scheme? Does it conduct comparable programs of its own with its own faculty? Note that the SMCU doesn't list any UCN faculty on its website, nor does it describe in any way how UCN is involved.
    • UCN's website mentions several doctorates awarded en tutilo proprio, which, as we're discovering, are awards outside a university's authority. (They're awarding the degrees on their own instead of being approved to do so.) Is this the case with the SMCU and Azteca doctorates?
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2021
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  3. Garp

    Garp Well-Known Member

    I believe Azteca is approved to award the EdD so a PhD (or any other doctorate) would be tutilo proprio. Ultimately, someone might not care if they could get an EdD from Azteca and a PhD from UCN or a PhD from Azteca and a PhD from UCN (in that case the UCN PhD would be the most important).

    If you have never been to either campus, there may be questions in some people's minds. Might not be a bad idea to go to graduation (at least Azteca and then say it was a joint doctoral program with UCN).
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2021
  4. Vonnegut

    Vonnegut Well-Known Member

    Rich, thank you for providing this input. While I don’t have a dog in this discussion either, I’m struggling to grasp how UCN could adequately audit these programs, particularly given the fee structure and foreign nature of the programs. Also struggling to grasp why an institution, if they are reputable, would want to wash their programs through another institution. While joint degrees are not uncommon, this is quite different then ones I’m familiar with. Certainly can see it being a revenue generator for UCN and potential marketing advantages, if carefully implemented.
    Rich Douglas likes this.
  5. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Money and his cousin Mo'.

    There once was a book called "Non-Profit Can Be Profitable." I believe it.
  6. LearningAddict

    LearningAddict Well-Known Member

    "UCN is notable for entering into agreements with unrecognized schools from other countries to award UCN degrees for studies completed at those schools."

    I'm not aware of all of their agreements, but there seems to be quite a few. The main ones I know of are SMC, Azteca, and Texila. All three appear to be accredited, except I'm not sure about Texila since I see a distinction made by the National Accreditation Council of Guyana between "approved" and "accredited", so someone with knowledge of Guyana's system would have to explain how that works.

    SMC was unaccredited for a long time but finally got established under Malta's system. Azteca has been accredited in Mexico for a while now.
    Rich Douglas likes this.
  7. Alpine

    Alpine Active Member

    For clarification, does the phenomenon you are researching deal with why an accredited foreign national university aligns and collaborates with unaccredited and perhaps accredited foreign universities to offer courses and confer degrees? Are you also studying the perceived value of such a degree as it relates to utility in the USA after undergoing a NACES evaluation of US equivalency?
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2021
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  8. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member


    The above questions pre-suppose that I am doing any research at all. I am not. What I know about this arrangement I learned in about 10 minutes of poking around.
  9. Alpine

    Alpine Active Member

    Thank you for clarifying.
    Rich Douglas likes this.
  10. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    Sort of.

    Old SMC is the one in Switzerland with the relationship with UCN. That's what we seem to be discussing here.

    New SMC is an organizationally separate entity that is an accredited university in Malta.
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  11. LearningAddict

    LearningAddict Well-Known Member

    Oh, that's right. Totally forgot about them setting up the Malta program as a separate venture. Yeah, so that puts the UNC-SMC situation back at square one.
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  12. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Because we all know that Malta is the paragon of higher education in the world.

  13. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    Are you suggesting that Malta isn't capable of higher education oversight?

    Regulatory environments can vary in how they conducive they are to institutions that work a certain way. That's why we saw some schools open offices to become eligible to be accredited by HLC when they otherwise would be stuck with SACS or WASC.
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  14. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    I have no idea. But it is an obscure, little place, and when an operation like SMC decides to set up an offshore version of itself in such a place, yeah, I get a little oogie about it. Reminds me of those California schools all flocking to Hawaii for approval (while remaining right there in California doing business).

    I'm not disapproving of it. I'm suspicious of it. It looks like the system is made up of the University of Malta, some other tertiary institutions, and some foreign operations--some with and some without proper recognition elsewhere.
  15. Maxwell_Smart

    Maxwell_Smart Active Member

    UCN, dammit! How many times will the sacred acronym of this prestigious institution be disrespected here???
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  16. mintaru

    mintaru Active Member

    In general, I don't think it's fair to believe that just because of its size, a country may be unable to oversee higher education.
    Unfortunately, it is Malta that we are talking about.

    I'm also suspicious of it.
    Not because of the size of Malta, but because of its corruption. In 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese journalist and anti-corruption activist, was murdered. Her case marked the first time a crime in this tiny country made news across the EU. The reason is the parallels between her case and the cases of murdered journalists in countries like Russia or Belarus. However, Malta is an EU country.

    Here is an article on this case, it's two years old but not much has changed since then, unfortunately: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/03/malta-corruption-daphne-caruana-galizia-murder

    In such an environment, is it really possible to trust the decision of any government agency?
  17. mintaru

    mintaru Active Member

    That is not completly correct. SMC Education Group is not accredited as a university, but as a "Higher Education Institution". This is one level below the status of university.
  18. mintaru

    mintaru Active Member

    It is unusual, but there are some universities in Europe that use English as the language of instruction instead of the national language. The reason is that English is the lingua franca of science. One example of such a school is Jacobs University in Bremen.
    I'm a bit surprised by this question. I am currently in Germany, and when I go to smcuniversity.com with my German IP, then nowhere do I see an example where SMC / SMCU would call itself SMC University. It's always SMC or Swiss Management Center. So it seems SMCU is always called SMC in Europe (or at least in Germany), for whatever reason.
  19. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    Thank you, I stand corrected. Although that does beget the question how meaningful the difference is.
  20. LearningAddict

    LearningAddict Well-Known Member

    100 more? LOL!

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