Snapshot of Academic Legitimacy Positions

I enjoy posting to various forums that cover distance learning and academic legitimacy. Different forums on this subject attract people with different perspectives, some where the dominant view is that only regional accreditation is good enough (“RA or no way”), and others where most people believe that so long as a program is operating legally, it’s okay.

I participate mostly on forums that tend toward the former position, but as I’ve thought about these issues, and that thinking has evolved over time, I thought I’d offer a snapshot of what I think now. I’ve changed my mind about some things, so this may differ from some things I’ve written in the past. I may change my mind again, so this may differ from some things I’ll write in the future. Still, here goes:

  1. Regional accreditation is not the only legitimate sort. There’s nothing wrong with the CHEA approved national (including faith-based) accreditors. There are also institutions that are only state approved (i.e., unaccredited) that are legitimate as well. All other things being equal, it’s better to have credentials from a regionally accredited institution than a nationally accredited or unaccredited one because of perceptions in the marketplace. It’s rarely that simple, however, in that all other things are rarely equal. I’ve had the opportunity to practice what I’m preaching here, in that last year I convinced the administration at Southeastern University to switch from a policy of only accepting regionally accredited transfer credit to also accepting nationally accredited transfer credit.
  2. At the same time, I don’t think it should be a federal requirement that all institutions accredited by a CHEA approved agency should have to accept all credit from all others. This isn’t because I think that nationally accredited institutions are bad, but because I don’t think that’s any of Uncle Sam’s business.
  3. Proprietary institutions are not inherently worse than non-profit or public ones. However, since many people perceive that they are, it makes their credentials less valuable, and all other things being equal, credentials from a non-profit or public institution are better to have on one’s resume. (In this case, all other things often are reasonably equal, outside of specializations like test piloting, I can’t think of a program offered by a proprietary school that’s not offered by a public school at the same price or less.)
  4. Just because another country’s Ministry of Education approves of an institution in their country doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. This is the GAAP theory of international education, and while it’s a reasonable rule of thumb, it’s the start of the process, not the end of it. At the same time I’ve seen some people respond to universities from small and/or poor countries with kneejerk skepticism, and I find that’s unwarranted.
  5. About a year ago, I wrote the following throwaway comment on a forum:

    “If I were one of those lucky/smart guys who had a lot of money and not enough to do with it, I think I’d start a Center for Academic Credential Integrity and hire a few people to do nothing but scout out those who have bogus credentials and inform local media and board of trustees of the scandals in their midst.”

    In retrospect, this is one of the more obnoxious things I’ve ever said, and I withdraw it. In reality, I wouldn’t do any such thing.

So that’s where I stand at this point.

Dither, Dither, Yon and Thither

So as if things weren’t already muddled enough, I got an email out of the blue yesterday from the Education department at New Mexico State University. They have a PhD program in Curriculum and Instruction that has emphases in social justice and instructional technology, which means that they’d probably be a good fit with my interests in open educational resources and international education. They also offer in state rates to out of state students not taking more than six credit-hours per term, around which this program seems purposefully designed, making it less expensive than to do a program at George Mason University or the University of Virginia — the only local options still on the table.

They also require two-week residencies on their main campus in Las Cruces for three summers in a row. I’m of two minds on this. On the one had, that’s six credit hours in two weeks, which it pretty motivating. That also means that out of forty-eight credits, more than one third are earned in a classroom, which ought to make it more palatable to those who are biased against distance learning. On the other hand, that’s an inconvenient amount of time away from home, and I’d have to see how my supervisor would feel about what kind of leave I would use. (My preference, of course, would be administrative leave rather than annual leave.)

But anyway, it’s yet another program to consider. For those who came in late, that means I’m up to five, in no particular order:

  1. Doctor of Technology program, Cape Peninsula University of Technology (South Africa)
  2. PhD in Curriculum and Instruction, New Mexico State University
  3. Doctor of Social Science in Human Resource Development, University of Leicester (UK)
  4. PhD in Cultural Studies, George Mason University (Northern Virginia)
  5. EdD in Administration and Supervision, University of Virginia

They’re all very different from one another, and they all have very different pros and cons. I’ve been fine with that, since it wasn’t nearly time to apply, but now that’s changing and I’m going to have to stop dithering and start really deciding.

The Longer and Windier Road

So this semester I was supposed to take my last two courses at GW, but a number of things that have happened at the last minute have changed my approach a little.

One thing is that I discovered that the University of Leicester has a doctoral program in Human Resource Development that looks like it’s about halfway between education and business. Since my ultimate interests are about halfway between education and business, that’s a program that has my attention. It doesn’t hurt that it’s only £11250, which even with the U.S. dollar in the gutter is only about $22,500. Now, that’s a lot more than the program at Cape Peninsula University of Technology, but it’s on par with the least expensive American or British programs. Leicester also evidently participates in the U.S. financial aid system, suggesting I could defer my existing loans while a student with them and take out more to cover tuition. Leicester is also a top 25 university in the UK, and a top 200 university in the world, which means it ranks higher even than GW, from where my Master’s will ultimately come.

So how does that affect what courses I take to complete my Master’s? Well, I need Instructional Design and one other course to finish up. I can take courses at Marymount for free and GW will accept them in transfer. Instructional Design at Marymount is in the Human Resource Management department, and there are a variety of other Human Resource Management courses that should transfer as my final elective. If I take these courses instead of the ones at GW, I stand a better chance of Leicester accepting my Master’s as sufficient preparation for entry into their program (should I ultimately decided to apply to them).

It’s not a downside to me that these courses will start in January, rather than GW ones that would start now. This semester will be a busy one for me at Marymount, so a little more breathing room will be helpful. Besides, I still need to do my comps, and now I can focus on them and take them this semester without also worrying about other courses.

So that’s the longer and windier road as it stands now….