“Get a Ph.D. in America Without Knowing English!”


This is the title of a June 16th article about U.S.-based rogue providers (unaccredited schools) operating in Vietnam (Làm tiến sĩ ở Mỹ nhưng không biết tiếng Anh!).  The English translation of the article, entitled Director Questioned About Dubious US Doctoral Degree, was published on 6/23 by VietnamNet.   

 The “university” in question is Southern Pacific University, which has two “accredited centers” in Vietnam.  SPU also has agents in China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Taiwan, Thailand, and the UK. 

In this case, the director of the department of culture, sports and tourism in Phú Thọ in northern Vietnam “earned” an online Ph.D. from February 2007 to September 2009.  The academic work, such as it was, was in translation, including the “dissertation defense.” 

And the cost of a “Ph.D.” from SPU? 8k cash or 9k on the installment plan.  (That’s about a 12% interest rate, in case you were wondering.)

DOCTORAL DEGREE PROGRAMS (Ph.D)  
Cash Payment Plan : $8000.00
Installment Payment Plan : $9000.00
Payable in 9 equal payments of $1000.00

I came across a LinkedIn profile of a Vietnamese man who is “head of sales” for a multinational telecommunications company.  Under education he (proudly, unknowingly?) lists “Southern Pacific University – State of Delaware – USA.”

Here are two other U.S.-based rogue providers that were recently in the Vietnamese and English news here:  Southwest American University (CA) and Adam International University (GA)

A couple of my favorite quotes from the English article about Southwest American University:

A student only identified as T. said “I’ve paid so I have to attend classes so I don’t regret spending my money. But I don’t understand anything. Most of the time, I search for information on the Internet for my thesis.”

“You simply go to the Internet and search for the information in Vietnamese, then cut and paste it into a complete thesis and have it translated by Google into English,” she said.

Another student, who asked not to be identified, joked “after the course, you will be a master of cut and paste.”

This 10-month program is a real cash cow for the organizers:  $120k gross revenue.  Money, of course, is what it’s all about: 1) the potential to earn lots of it by partnering with the bottom feeders of U.S. higher education; and 2) the willingness of some Vietnamese of means to pay a lot for an overseas and, preferably, a U.S. higher education credential.  Admissions criteria?  Money and some “seat time.”

In case you’re interested in seeing SAU’s “campus” in beautiful Buena Park, California, check out this Google Maps photo.  It’s   right next to the Islamic Relief Center, Belinda’s Authentic Mexican, Del Taco, Firestone Complete Auto Care, Subway Sandwiches and Jack in the Box. 

Below is an excerpt from a forthcoming article of mine about rogue providers in Vietnam.

 This issue is a quietly ticking time bomb that will explode not all at once but over an extended period of time, slowly, insidiously, invisibly for the most part but nevertheless destructively.  The cumulative effect of “US higher education institutions” cheating students and parents will tarnish the luster, damage the reputation and dilute the integrity of accredited US colleges and universities.  Thus, we will be doing ourselves and foreign countries a favor by taking the issue of learner protection seriously and taking the necessary steps to rein in, or at least expose, unaccredited schools. 

It is an issue that should also concern the US State Department because part of its work is directly related to public diplomacy and the United States’ image in the eyes of the Vietnamese and people of other nationalities. 

Qualitatively and in many other respects rogue providers are worlds apart from accredited institutions.  However, there is one common distinguishing characteristic:  they are perceived as US American institutions of higher education.  It matters not that one was created in a few months at a cost of several thousand dollars and received state approval (maybe) while the other was established 50 years ago, has a budget in hundreds of millions and is regionally accredited.  The end result is the same – guilt by association.   Ultimately, there is the very real risk that we will all be tarred with the same tawdry brush in the court of public opinion in Vietnam and elsewhere.  Reversing the damage would not be an easy undertaking. 

From the standpoint of someone who has worked with regionally accredited US higher education in Vietnam, it is exceedingly difficult to explain to Vietnamese why US-based rogue providers are allowed to exist and why the US permits such a substandard service to be exported (not unlike the dumping of certain products in “Third World” countries that don’t happen to meet US standards).  Making money surely places a distant second to ensuring quality education and training for US and international students.

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5 thoughts on ““Get a Ph.D. in America Without Knowing English!”

  1. Selling programs offered by unaccredited schools, including diploma/degree mills, is an unscrupulous investor’s dream: low overhead, high profit, and quick return on a minimal investment.

    In response to a recent media inquiry about how best to deal with unaccredited schools in Vietnam, I mentioned that it is the authorities who must ultimately address this issue. The easiest way is to 1) ban all unaccredited foreign HE institutions from operating in Vietnam; 2) require universities to obtain approval for every partnership they enter into with a foreign school (to ensure that all are officially accredited); and 3) create/enforce costly penalties for those who fail to do so and who choose to work with rogue providers.

    Here’s a link to the article Foreign diploma mills plague higher education

  2. I personally paid attention to this problem long time ago, and must now admit that nobody in Vietnam really regards it as a serious problem.

    Earning a Ph.D is “fun” and the “red capitalists” now start realizing that what they could not get with money, could get with a lot of money (some say this is a motto of Rockefeller and is now loved by the majority of VNese who incidentally get to know it somehow).

    All people who got their degrees this way knew very clearly and naturally that theirs were fake and valueless. However, when foreigners are viewed as “superior breed” and their “universities” – no matter how on earth crazy intellectuals rank them – continue to be fantastic degree mills, why should they bother?

    A sad – but genuine – fact. “What cannot be cured must be endured”. They will continue to buy these.

  3. The brainchild behind Southern Pacific University is an Australian who set up the less-than-wonderful Hutt River Province as a jurisdiction of accreditation. It’s a global problem, and will never be resolved unless it is addressed via a global solution.

  4. Unaccredited university doesn’t mean that that is diploma mill. Education is about the matter of quality and profession. Unaccredited degree doesn’t mean that there is lack of quality and profession. You can pay high-rocketed tuition fee to famous accredited university to get accredited degree but can you pass the final thesis? How about the english standard that most vietnamese students can afford to score? The unaccredited degree has only a goal is to provide affordable, quality and economic education service for Vietnamese education industry. It is undeniable that unaccredited degree is not approved by DETC or ACICS, however, it is a good opportunity to enhance and to improve the education level of Vietnamese society. I understand that Dr. Mark is concern about the education industry of Vietnam. But, the criticized of unaccredited university is merely good comment or with hidden agenda?

    • For your information, here’s one dictionary definition of a diploma, or degree, mill: “An institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas that are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards worthless.” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary)

      Another term that’s very descriptive is “rogue provider,” which refers to low quality higher education providers who are not recognized by official accreditation bodies.

      Rogue providers have no oversight, no formal (and rigorous) quality assurance and maintenance procedures that they are required to follow, no accountability. They can do whatever they please, wherever and whenever they want. Their overhead is generally very low and therefore their profit margin high. Success depends upon a steady supply of “customers” who want/need a foreign credential and who are generally not aware of the distinction between licensed and accredited.

      Unaccredited schools should be honest about their status and some of the limitations of earning an unaccredited degree but this is not likely to happen for obvious reasons. Those that are just getting started, are serious about providing high quality education/training and are planning to apply for accreditation at a later date, once they are more established, are the most likely to be transparent and the least likely to engage in deceptive business practices.

      Most of the schools on my list are mainly interested in making money and lots of it, sorry to say. And they find plenty of local partners willing to cooperate and people willing to hand over thousands of dollars in order to obtain a US “degree.” As an Australian colleague, who happens to be an expert in this area, commented here: “Credentialism, greed and a touch of corruption. Put them all in the mixer and, voila! The perfect market for degree mills!”

      So why do I have an interest in this issue? Because it affects both Vietnam and the US in negative ways. I have no hidden agenda, no ulterior motives and no ax to grind. In fact, it increases my “pro bono” workload (e.g., responding to blog comments, e-mails from concerned students, media inquiries).

      With which school are you affiliated, or do you just happen to have an interest in this issue?

      MAA

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