Saturday, January 10, 2009

Define "scam"

"Do you have a printer to print your diploma?" "Yes." "Then you're accepted!" *Ominous voice* "Feeneckz Online!!"

"A diploma is a piece of paper," like a wedding band is lump of metal. Just so I could start to tell the difference between a diploma mill and a degree program that requires effort, I googled "diploma mill."

Diploma mill Earn Legal Verifiable Diploma From Home. 100% Approval. Ship Fast.

For kicks, I phoned their number to find out what was needed for me to get my PhD immediately. Here's the number in case you'd like to try: 1-866-727-2979 (phone anytime).

After I told the "Rochville University" customer representative that I had a BS and MS in electrical engineering with four years of work experience, he told me I could get a PhD 10-document pack for $599, and it would take about a week for it to arrive. Ten documents! That's like $60 per document! Their website shows you what you get:

  • 1 Original Accredited Degree "Summa Cum Laude"
  • 2 Original Transcripts "I got a B in Business Math!"
  • 1 Award of Excellence "for having completed the Mechanical Engineering project"
  • 1 Certificate of Distinction "outstanding performance in Economics"
  • 1 Certificate of Membership "in the Students' Council"
  • 4 Education Verification Letters "3.61 GPA"
  • and a partridge in a pear tree

I asked him how they determine if I'm qualified for my PhD. He told me to send in a document telling what my degrees and work experience is, and what I've learned on the job. He said someone that had no higher education could get a PhD from Rochville after 15 years of work experience, but someone that has a BS and MS could get one with 3-4 years of work experience.

Apparently they try to convert "life experience" into "credit hours." He said that a year of life experience is 17 credit hours, and a Rochville PhD is 40 credit hours. He said a credit hour is 20 hours of coursework. This doesn't work out, since if I accrue 40 hours of life experience each week for a year, I could obtain two PhDs every year! I'd like to have a PhD in "Keepin' It Real."

He said that I could go to job interviews and present the interviewers my Rochville degree as a credential, and they could call them up and verify that I've taken online courses and passed exams. Wait a minute, courses? Exams? Effort? I told him I didn't know about their online courses and asked him what they're like. After a pause, he told me that online courses were something that they were working on, and maybe they'd be available in some months time. How about exams? He said there are no exams. I then thanked him for the information.

So, I'd call that a diploma mill. And yes, there's been many a muckraker news story covering diploma mills, some involving pet owners that get their cat an MBA, or their dog an AA in canine companionship, but my favorite response to diploma mills is from Here's a couple that emailed 250 professors asking them if Almeda University is a scam, or not a scam. Yes, we all know that peer-reviewing a diploma mill is ludicrous, but might be as entertaining as a Weekend at Bernie's. Only five professors responded, one of which was quite scathing, from a Pf. Lentz at UCLA:

"As a tenured professor of logic and critical thinking at a major university-not a diploma mill such as Almeda "University"-I can only conclude that today's public are so grossly stupid and ill-informed that they are wallowing in their ignorance as they search in vain for an education without actually becoming educated in the classical and legitimate sense."

"Here is my question to complete my answer to this question: Why not attend a real university? Do not tax your feeble minds in attempting to answer my question. I will save you the awful effort of having to think. You are not attending a real university because you are too ignorant, stupid, and ill-equipped mentally to succeed at a real university where professors like me will eat you alive and spit you out.

"So, go get your Almeda degrees. We don't want you fools in our universities anyway. Almeda is actually doing us a favor so that we don't have to suffer through you fools being in our classes actually learning something. We don't have to suffer you trying to scam us. Ultimately, who is the scammer? It's you -- trying to cheat the system by trying to pass off your Almeda paper as if you really learned something. When you get your job with your Almeda degree, your colleagues will eat you alive. I would be surprised if you last more than a week."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Daytime Television and DeVry

I remember in high school a teacher that was not particularly fond of me encouraged me to consider studying at DeVry while she groomed the rest of her students to apply to UC Berkeley. The narrow-minded culture at school had placed a lot of pressure for everyone to get into top colleges. As far as undergraduate studies were concerned, at the time I wasn't aware of what the differences between the schools were besides it was a lot harder to get into Berkeley!

Weekday daytime television (Je-rry! Je-rry! Je-rry!) is the only time I run into online degree advertisements, but the rest of the ads are not so constructive to their viewers:

But here's a better one:

Western Career College is one of the schools I remember the jingle to: "At Western Career College," *clap *clap "You Can Dooooooooo It!" But it looks like the students themselves had questioned the quality of education in one incident:

Commercials like this one for DeVry (another university offering online programs, like game development) don't sway my skepticism: "I play games now, but one day, I'll make them."

It would be dangerous for the school to exaggerate the incentives in obtaining skills to create computer games. Even though computer gaming revenue is huge, the market is dominated by just a handful of the best selling titles around Christmas sales, distributed by a handful of distributors that get their games from a handful of small teams of developers.

These ads for DeVry are also the butt of jokes:

Easy entry into a school doesn't mean easy completion, but there's a lot of image to clean up!

Attributes for Success, by John McCain and the Men's Wearhouse Guy

This video congratulates University of Phoenix graduates through an array of celebrities, including John McCain and George Zimmer of the Men's Wearhouse ("I guarantee it!"). John McCain speaks of the attributes of success, qualities that he finds in the group of graduates he's addressing. Immediately following the 2008 presidential candidate is George Zimmer of the Men's Wearhouse commercials, saying that the attributes confirmed by a University of Phoenix Online degree are attributes looked for in new hires at the Men's Wearhouse. "You're going to like the way you have job skills. I guarantee it!"

Of Sally Struthers and University of Phoenix Online


I'm curious about a lot of things. Today I'm wondering about the quality of degrees earned over the internet, and I'll share my notes in this blog.

For some background, I got my BS and MS degrees from non-online schools, and I'm working as an electrical engineer. I'm excited about lots of things the internet enables us to do. Of course, it isn't a substitute for physical human interactions (and for me as of today, that includes traditional education), but now we can do all sorts of things online that was never before possible. By compromising some of the pleasures of real world interactions, we can interact with people and ideas from the comfort of our couch and netbook. But I digress.

I'm starting this blog with a sneaking suspicion that a Simpsons episode included a University of Phoenix Online joke, but I can't find a reference. So I'll just pull one up from YouTube:

I'm suspicious that most people that ridicule online degrees, like the guys in the video, haven't really explored what goes into an online degree. I'm just as ignorant: I've never met anyone that's gotten their degree online, and I've never visited an online degree site. So let me share my first impressions.

Off the top of my head, I've seen a bunch of University of Phoenix ads around the internet for online degrees. When I think of online degrees, I begin to recall the Sally Struthers advertisements we all watched through the eighties:

But I throw them into the same bin only because you're learning from home. Does that necessarily mean they offer the same type of degrees? Let's look at a sampling of degrees offered from each school:

ICS Learning System (Sally Struthers):
High School
TV/VCR Repair
Computer Programming
Animal Care Specialist
Auto Mechanic
Legal Assistant

University of Phoenix:
Associate: Associate of Arts in Business, Associate of Arts in Financial Service, Associate of Arts in Hospitality, Travel, and TourismBachelor's: Bachelor of Science in Business/Information Systems, Bachelor of Science in Business/Integrated Supply Chain and Operations Management, Bachelor of Science in Business/Management
Master's:Master of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Nursing for Nurse PractitionersPhD:Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration, Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership/Educational Technology
So it appears that University of Phoenix is a superset of the ICS Learning System. University of Phoenix Online aims to serve a range of students: those with either high school degrees or masters degrees can get their next degree while working. ICS provides degree programs that can be entered with or without a high school degree.

Questionably the impossibility of earning a PhD from home is now possible through the internet. But this says nothing of the quality of education, which we can dig into later!