Saturday, June 12, 2010


I received this in my inbox very early this morning. I get these invitations from time to time and on rare occasion one will spark some interest. This one was not one of those until I started to compose a short note declining the invitation…

Hi Michael,

We would love to share with you an article that we just posted on our own blog! Top 10 Con Artists In Academic History would be an interesting story for your readers to check out and discuss on your blog, so we hope you will consider sharing it!

Thanks for your time!

Lauri Xxxxxx


Although academic cons are nothing new they are still worth discussing as, unfortunately, they are still ongoing. If I were to approach the subject on my blog, it would be from a different angle than just reproducing news accounts of what has already happened - it likely would dig more into a discussion of ethics, of morals and of the personal benefit of not cheating as this is ultimately the only way to persuade those who are prone to "short-cutting" the process to realize the person they are hurting the most is staring back in the mirror. For this same reason, I do not endorse "alternative" colleges that generate degrees based upon "real-world" experience. It is not the education per se, but what these schools call it when completed. An associate's, bachelor's or master's degree means much, much more. (As an aside, I am also philosophically opposed to the for-profit model of education). A university degree should indicate that the holder has learned far more than the technical knowledge required for accounting, or engineering, or programming, etc. - it should indicate a willingness to be open to the varied requirements of university education, a commitment to the time it will take and the sacrifice it takes to see it through. A BA or BS degree should take at least eight full-time semesters - for the brightest and most disciplined, maybe six, but that is still three full years at the minimum. It shows potential employers and everyone else who understands what a degree of this magnitude represents - that the holder has not only the ability to perform a job in a specific area of expertise (one's major), but also the ability to think clearly and critically with the insight of those who have gone before over the past many thousands of years.

The blog you referred me to is a tool for those seeking online education. As I am sure you are aware, this is a trend that is increasing in popularity and even traditional universities are offering online courses in an attempt to serve a larger student body and save costs on both the universities' and students' ends. I am not, in principle, opposed to a wide variety of instructional formats, but when one is used to the exclusion of all others - especially to eliminate the classroom, or lecture hall, or lab - then a huge part of the academic experience is lost. It does not appear to me that your blog advocates this position, only that it offers those in search of online education a resource. However (and this is a big however), because many for-profit institutions are for profit, the best way to maximize income is through cost-cutting and where those reduced expenditures are used to attract students in the form of lower fees and "degree equality" with a traditional university education, we end up with an online course market that is polluted with these institutions (University of Phoenix, DeVry, and the like). And to my dismay, your home page is plastered with links to these schools. There are a number of accredited (really accredited) public and private universities that offer online courses (and some) online degrees.

My plan was to write a simple response declining your invitation because I do not want it to appear that I endorse these schools as equivalent to the comprehensive traditional universities that provide well-rounded education to their students. I believe that vocational education has a place - an important one - and it has as much value as a university degree, but it is not an apples and apples comparison. For these schools to portray their degrees as equal to one from a real university is borderline fraud. Try getting into a PhD program at University of California, Santa Barbara or Harvard with a University of Phoenix master's... or into a master's program at any of the California State University campuses with a bachelor's from DeVry - let alone a teaching job at such an institution with one of these degrees. My planned response has now changed, this correspondence has become that discussion of ethics and morals I mentioned above; it has become a blog post. I therefore have little choice but to link your blog post... but as the old saying goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

1 comment:

Belizegial said...

The information you provided here is invaluable as I have been weighing my options of doing an on-line course from the United Kingdom or doing one from a locally based university here. It's good to know your thoughts on this topic.