“Students warned of rogue education providers”

This excellent article by Le Quynh Anh, which included an interview with me, appeared in the 18 November issue of the English language daily Viet Nam News.    Below is the unabridged version of that interview. 

As the international educator, who has five years of experiences working in Vietnam, what are the reasons do you think behind the increasing demand of Vietnamese students who wish to acquire degrees or certificates from international institutions rather than from domestic ones with no proper consideration what those international institutions really offer?

 There are a number of reasons.  First, there is dissatisfaction among many with the quality of Vietnamese higher education and a desire to find better in-country alternatives. 

Secondly, there is the prestige factor and the misperception that all foreign higher education is better than Vietnamese higher education, regardless of provider or quality of education.  

Thirdly, there is the “disease” of credentialism, defined by one dictionary as the “undue emphasis on credentials (as college degrees) as prerequisites to employment.”  This is one reason driving force behind the demand for higher education in general. 

Fourthly, until recently, there has been little to no awareness about the process of quality assurance and maintenance known as accreditation.  This means that most Vietnamese and people of other nationalities are unable to distinguish between different types of higher education institutions.  In their eyes “made in the USA” is synonymous with quality and excellence without regard to the status of the institution offering the degree program. 

Unaccredited schools aggressively recruit in countries like Vietnam often with the help of local partners because they know it’s much easier to find students here than in the U.S.  In addition, most are very good at appearing to be legitimate (i.e., officially accredited) through slick websites, convincing sales pitches, and sometimes, through reputable local partners.  To make matters even more confusing for students and parents, some are even “accredited” by accreditation mills. 

Another reason that explains the popularity of unaccredited programs is cost.  They tend to be much less expensive than those offered by officially accredited institutions.  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, approved and accredited. 

As George Brown, an Australian colleague, commented on my blog, “Credentialism, greed and a touch of corruption. Put them all in the mixer and, voila! The perfect market for degree mills!”

It’s very easy to determine if a U.S. university or college is officially accredited.  Visit the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website and look for the school in question in its Database of Institutions and Programs Accredited By Recognized U.S. Accrediting Organizations.  The database lists more than 7,700 degree-granting and non-degree-granting institutions and more than 18,700 programs that are accredited by United States accrediting organizations that have been recognized either by CHEA or by the United States Department of Education (USDE) or both.

As you once shared with Star-Tribune Newspaper, several states in the U.S are haven for diploma mills and Việt Nam is a target for such bogus institutions and you said that Việt Nam is vulnerable to such schools? How come? Can you elaborate about this point: how vulnerable Việt Nam is?

According to Alan Contreras, a U.S. colleague of mine and a well-known expert in this area, most unaccredited schools in the U.S. are based in California and Hawaii.  It’s no surprise that over half of the schools on my list are from these states. 

As I mentioned in my previous answer, there is too little knowledge about accreditation in countries like Vietnam, which makes it easy to take advantage of people’s ignorance and desire for a foreign credential. 

Keep in mind that not all unaccredited schools, or rogue providers, are created equal.  Some sell higher education credentials while others offer substandard education and training.  What they all have in common is that they have no oversight, no formal (and rigorous) quality assurance and maintenance procedures that they are required to follow.  In short, there is no accountability. They can do whatever they please, wherever and whenever they want.

As Mr. Contreras pointed out on my blog in reference to one rogue provider, “there is no such thing as a private right to issue degrees in the U.S. and almost all other nations.  Degree-granting authority must be granted to a college by a government, not an accreditor.  Anyone who claims that a college is genuine needs to say which government gave it degree authority, not which accreditor did so.”  He was referring to Corllins University, which he described as “entirely fake and its degrees are always invalid and fraudulent. Use of a Corllins degree is a criminal violation in Oregon and 11 other U.S. states.”

Vietnam is becoming less vulnerable to this type of educational fraud because there is growing awareness of this issue through widespread coverage in the media and because of recent statements by the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET).  In August Dr. Nguyễn Xuân Vang, director of the International Education Development Department of MoET, stated in an interview that unauthorized joint training programs are illegal and that the Ministry will not recognize the diplomas of programs offered in cooperation with unaccredited foreign partners.  It is, of course, up to the Vietnamese government through MoET to be the gatekeeper and do whatever it can to prevent rogue providers from the U.S. or any foreign country from doing business in Vietnam.

 Can you list several horrible stories in Việt Nam that involves with diplomat mills and if you can share contacts of some victims who lost relatively much money yet not received a accredited degree as expected.

 It’s best that you investigate this in your work as a journalist. 

Since you published of the list of (24) U.S.-based or affiliated unaccredited schools that have entered the higher education market in Vietnam, what are the responses you have received so far?

As I mentioned in a blog post in late August entitled What A Difference a Month Can Make: Rogue Providers & the Power of the Press, I received a number of e-mails from concerned and, in some cases, angry students (angry because “their school” didn’t inform them about its status), as well as some from individuals who appear to have ties to these schools.  Here’s one example of the latter:  “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?”  I have an interest in this issue because it affects both Vietnam and the US in a myriad of negative ways. I have no hidden agenda, no ulterior motives and no ax to grind. In fact, it increases my “pro bono” workload. 

To the extent that US-based/affiliated unaccredited schools are successful in enrolling large numbers of Vietnamese students in programs of marginal quality who then graduate with largely worthless degrees, the reputation of legitimate (officially accredited) US higher education may be tarnished. In that sense this is a battle that is being fought in both countries.  The unfortunate reality is that most of the rogue providers doing business in Vietnam are “made in the USA” or attempt to wrap themselves in the American flag in order to positively influence the bottom line.

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