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Degrees by mail
look what you can buy for only $499!

By Lisa Neal / January 2004

TYPE: OPINION
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It's not as bad as receiving email about herbal supplements, but I get a fair number of emails informing me of quick and easy ways to obtain a degree. I read these much more carefully than other unsolicited emails to find out how much the degree costs, how long it takes to "earn" it, and what the plausible-sounding name of the institution is. I assume that somebody answers these ads, but never gave much thought to who might take them seriously. I was very surprised and rather amused to have this question answered recently when The Boston Globe ran a front-page article about the purchase of just such a degree by the chief of the state Department of Public Health laboratory.

According to the Globe, "Ralph Timperi began signing state emails in recent weeks with a notation indicating he held a doctorate." His web page listed a 2003 degree from Trinity Southern University—see what I mean about plausible sounding names? Timperi told the Globe that "he pursued the degree after receiving an e-mail from the university while he was on a research mission last summer in Cambodia." Was he, perhaps, swayed by persuasive wording? Did he want to be called Dr. Timperi? How else to explain someone in his position, and not, apparently, in need of a degree to advance professionally, suffering such a lapse in judgment? And what about all the people who need a degree for employment or who may not understand the time, effort, and financial commitment typically required for a degree?

The British Open University and other excellent and reputable online programs have done a lot to move public perception of online programs away from the déclassé correspondence schools that used to be so common—remember the matchbooks advertising "Be a graphic artist"? Even with high-quality programs, prospective students are concerned about employer perception: Is an online degree as valuable as a "bricks and mortar" degree? Jeff Papows, former president of Lotus, claimed he held a Ph.D. from Pepperdine University when he actually held a master's degree from Pepperdine and a Ph.D. from a "correspondence school." He wasn't embarrassed to enroll, but he was apparently embarrassed to acknowledge the granting institution.

If prospective students are to distinguish legitimate and accredited online degree-granting programs from the bogus ones advertised through spam, we need better and more explicit measures of quality. Reputation is an important measure, as are rankings. Accreditation agencies in the U.S. are set up to provide an external measure of quality, but many people don't know about or understand the accreditation review process, especially as regards e-learning programs. For example, I have a vague idea that the square footage of library space is important to receiving bricks-and-mortar accreditation, but I have no idea how this might translate to the online world.

Everyone benefits if prospective students understand accreditation and can evaluate the suitability of an online program before they enroll—everyone except those "schools" with something to hide. If someone of Timperi's stature can be duped, anyone can. As for Papows, he clearly knew the difference between a worthwhile degree and a sham, yet distorted the truth. If he cared so much about the source of his degree, he should have been more careful in selecting an institution—as, I would imagine, Timperi wishes he had.



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ADDITIONAL READING

    Lisa Neal
  1. Learn to apologize for fun and profit
  2. Of web hits and Britney Spears
  3. Advertising or education?
  4. Five questions…for Matt DuPlessie
  5. Back to the future
  6. Serious games for serious topics
  7. Five (or six) questions...for Irene McAra-McWilliam
  8. Learner on the Orient Express
  9. When will e-learning reach a tipping point?
  10. Online learning and fun
  11. In search of simplicity
  12. "Spot Learning"
  13. Q&A with Saul Carliner
  14. eLearning and fun
  15. Everything in moderation
  16. The basics of e-learning
  17. Is it live or is it Memorex?
  18. The Value of Voice
  19. Predictions for 2006
  20. Five Questions...for Christopher Dede
  21. Five Questions... for John Seely Brown
  22. Five questions...for Shigeru Miyagawi
  23. "Deep" thoughts
  24. 5 questions... for Richard E. Mayer
  25. Designing usable, self-paced e-learning courses
  26. Want better courses?
  27. Just "DO IT"
  28. Five questions...
  29. Formative evaluation
  30. Senior service
  31. Blogging to learn and learning to blog
  32. My life as a Wikipedian
  33. Five questions...for Elliott Masie
  34. The stripper and the bogus online degree
  35. Five questions...for Lynn Johnston
  36. Five questions...for Tom Carey
  37. Not all the world's a stage
  38. Five questions...for Karl M. Kapp
  39. Five questions...for Larry Prusack
  40. Five questions...for Seb Schmoller
  41. Do distance and location matter in e-learning?
  42. Why do our K-12 schools remain technology-free?
  43. Music lessons
  44. How to get students to show up and learn
  45. Q&A
  46. Blended conferences
  47. Predictions for 2002
  48. Learning from e-learning
  49. Storytelling at a distance
  50. Q&A with Don Norman
  51. Talk to me
  52. Q&A with Diana Laurillard
  53. Do it yourself
  54. Predictions for 2004
  55. Predictions For 2003