The UC Davis class of 2012 has the educational world at its fingertips. Between graduate programs in public health and law school, business school and veterinary school, masters in fine arts and Ph.D.s in philosophy, the educational opportunities seem boundless.
Typically, the only thing stopping the dream-come-true-after-college plan is money, and a good deal will usually become the after-college-plan-that-actually-comes-true. However, some good deals’ only appeal is their low-cost.
A recent report in The New York Times suggested graduates take heed in the option they decide upon. The report said that California is home to more unaccredited schools than anywhere else in the nation. There are approximately 1,000 unaccredited or questionably accredited colleges and vocational schools in operation.
Accredibase, a service that targets academic fraud for employers, university admission teams and law enforcement agencies sees California as a region that’s inclined to harboring and proliferating unaccredited schools and degree mills because of the state’s easy-to-meet regulation standards and lax enforcement.
Eyal Ben Cohen, an Accredibase representative, said that California is significantly more relaxed about granting operation approval to unaccredited schools than other states are.
“Schools that have been closed, prosecuted, banned and blacklisted by other U.S. states are legally allowed to operate in California,” Cohen said.
Russ Heimrich, a spokesperson for the California Department of Consumer Affairs (CDCA), said that unaccredited schools are not necessarily the rogue and ungoverned institutions that The New York Times makes them out to be. Unaccredited schools still require licensing, the approval of the CDCA and are inspected and regulated. Heimrich said that the problem is not unaccredited schools, but when students don’t understand the difference between an accredited and a non-accredited school.
“Students need to know what their desired degree will allow them to do,” Heimrich said. “A mechanic’s certificate from an unaccredited school will enable you to become a mechanic, but some states won’t allow civil servants to be hired if they graduated from an unaccredited school. In California you can become a lawyer after graduating from an unaccredited school, but other states won’t recognize you.”
The CDCA approves and regulates school, unaccredited and not, on a consumer protection model, not academic quality. Heimrich said that students need to do their homework in order to find out the level of education they will receive from any given institution.
“There are some unlicensed organizations in California that hand out degrees that mean nothing,” Heimrich said. “Obtaining one of these degrees typically costs around $500 to $1,000 and includes little to no learning. The students that receive them are usually just as guilty as the organization that granted it; both parties are usually trying to make a quick buck.”
Debra Miller, JD, an administrator at the People’s College of Law (PCL), an unaccredited, but licensed law school in Los Angeles, said that many unaccredited schools, like PCL, work to provide access to students who cannot afford or qualify for an accredited law school.
She said that many PCL students are above 40, are working and may also be parents. Unlike most law schools, which demand completion of an undergraduate degree and competitive grades, PCL admission only requires that students have a minimum of 60 passing units. The California State Bar administers a “baby bar” to unaccredited law school students in their second year to make sure that they are on track.
“Our students face many challenges, life-wise and educationally, but if they work hard enough, they do pass the bar,” Miller said.
Though all unaccredited schools aren’t trying to rip students off or sell them fake degrees, Heimrich encourages students to be very cautious.
“The rise of internet applications and advertising can trick you into paying for something that you aren’t going to get,” Heimrich said.
In order to avoid getting tricked into paying for a fake, faulty, or lacking degree/program, Heimrich advises students to decide what they want to get out of their graduate education, pick a school that meets those needs, investigate schools’ graduation rates, course catalogues, faculty lists, financial aid, cost, and not jump into what seems to be the best deal too quickly.
SARA ISLAS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.