Not What They Signed Up For


“The bittersweet fact is that America exports some of the world’s best and worst higher education.” (MAA)

 When Albert Anarwat applied to the for-profit Aristotle University, in California, the Ghanaian student said he asked the university if the institution was accredited. Not only was he told yes, he said, but he also was told that if the university was not accredited, “How could they get a SEVIS number” – SEVIS being the federal Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. In other words, if the institution was not accredited, how could it be approved to host international students? 

 Anarwat said that’s the position he finds himself in. He said he was originally planning to attend a liberal arts college in the Midwest before learning that he could skip straight to Aristotle’s master’s program — despite only having an associate degree. He said that when he showed up at Aristotle in the fall, he asked “What kind of university is this? There is no library, no books, no nothing.” He said on weeks there are holidays there are no classes at all, and a new course module starts every two months, when another $2,000 in tuition comes due (according to the university, the two-year program costs about $25,000 in total).

 “You are paying to live in the United States but you are not paying for an education,” Anarwat said. “You’re not getting an education. There’s no single American.” Rather he said the students all come from Cameroon, Ghana, India or Tanzania. On the NBC report, one student from Cameroon was anonymously quoted as saying “not even in my country had I seen such meaningless education offered to students.”

(As reported in a recent Inside Higher Ed article)

aristotle-logo2-2008Pardon me, dear reader, for quoting myself but it’s so apropos in this case.  This is something I’ve written and warned about – mostly as a voice in the wilderness.  Aristotle University, not to be confused with Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, often called the Aristotelian University or University of Thessaloniki, is yet another family business masquerading as a university.  (Catchy name, huh? Yes,  the founders are Greek-American and, yes, Aristotle is turning in his grave.)  It comes as no surprise that this uni-company is based in California, a well-known sanctuary for unaccredited schools.  Most of these “schools” have similar boilerplate statements, as if they lifted them from a “how to” website for rogue providers. 

Aristotle University has an expressed and dedicated commitment toward academic excellence, promotion of understanding, the pursuit of truth, the discovery of new knowledge through scholarship and research, and the study and reasoned criticism of intellectual traditions. Aristotle University believes in strengthening the respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, peace, the sense of dignity, and the promotion of understanding, tolerance and friendship amongst all nations, and of all racial, ethnic or religious groups.

pay-tuition-button
The most important link on AU’s now-defunct website.

Mostly, though, it’s less about academic excellence, promotion of understanding, the pursuit of truth, etc. and more about money, and lots of it.

Aristotle University (CA)
AU is located in an office building in Carlsbad, CA next to CAVElectronics and the San Diego Realty Network.

pic of aristotle univ

If you go to the website, you’ll find this message:  Our new website is currently Under Maintenance.  That’s because Aristotle University is currently under siege.   Another page that was accessible in the not too distant past and from which I obtained some of the information in this post now has this bold black on white statement:  This Account Has Been Suspended.  Its Facebook Group, which once had 1,814 members, is now closed. 

The website, by the way, is registered through GoDaddy.com under the name of Thomas A. Gionis, MD JD Inc. in Newport Beach, CA, the older brother of Xanthi Gionis, the university’s founder and “dean of students and admission.”  Thomas Gionis was once married to John Wayne’s daughter, Aissa.  In a bizarre case from 25 years ago, Gionis hired a Beverly Hills private investigator to trail her in a custody dispute and acted as a “free agent” in orchestrating a brutal attack against her.  There’s more in this article from May 1989:  John Wayne’s Daughter Aissa Is Brutally Beaten, and Her Ex-Husband Is Soon to Stand Trial.  But I digress. 

200px-Xanthi_GionisXanthi Gionis, the power behind the AU throne, is a Tea Party Republican who is a 2013 Republican candidate in the special election for District 40 of the California State Senate.  She was a 2012 Republican candidate seeking election to the U.S. House representing the 51st Congressional District of California.  Gionis lists her profession as:  Professor/Businesswoman/Author.  Stories involving rogue providers and their owners are rarely boring.

The Role of State and Federal Governments

Aristotle University is the latest scandal du jour involving unaccredited schools that are also SEVIS-approved schools.  There are more; just check the SEVIS-approved list.  The ability to issue I-20s clearly enhances a school’s credibility and improves its bottom line.  It confers a certain legitimacy that in this case it neither deserves nor has earned.

Why not take a proactive rather than a reactive approach to dealing with these schools?  These schools are a national embarrassment and a stain on the reputation of legitimate US higher education.  More importantly, they are cheating students like Albert Anarwat of their time and money.  Probably the most damning indictment of Aristotle University is the quote from the Cameroonian student, who said that “not even in my country had I seen such meaningless education offered to students.”

Why not propose and enact legislation that forbids unaccredited schools from being authorized to issue I-20s in the first place?  Kill two birds with one stone by protecting learners from faux universities and protecting the reputation of officially accredited colleges and universities.   

Let me leave you with this question:  why are student visa applicants required to be bona fide and some of the US schools to which they apply and are admitted are not? 

MAA

Bonus items:

Former Teacher Claims Aristotle University Owes Her Money (7.2.13)

Aristotle University Dean Denies Allegations (8.2.13)

California Orders Shuttering of Unaccredited Aristotle University (7.3.13)

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4 thoughts on “Not What They Signed Up For

  1. Interesting post and thanks. I was (a few years ago) exploring the start up of a Florida Uni. I was told by the SACS that I would have to operate for 7 years before becoming accredited. DETC, 3 years, ACICS, 3 years. So, you can see that it is a cartel that stops new entrants. I think the US department of Education needs to be in charge of this process, not cartels.

    Soren Kirchner

  2. 7 years vs. 3 years illustrates the quality difference. What would you expect? You have have to start somewhere. Let’s be honest – most rogue providers have no intention of getting accreditation (e.g., the one described in the above post) and those that do are mainly interested in the prestige, increased enrollment and higher profit that result from that official stamp of approval.

    Anyone who knows anything about US higher education accreditation knows it’s much easier to get NA than RA. Just ask some folks in CA who bought an infamous diploma mill and transformed it into a highly profitable NA school (both DETC/ACICS) in about… 3 years (!). This higher ed company is doing very well in Vietnam and elsewhere. You call it a cartel. I like to think of it as a gatekeeper/quality assurance and maintenance mechanism – imperfect but workable. Maybe it’s a case of “you say tomato, I say tomato”? 🙂

    Cartel : “a combination of independent commercial or industrial enterprises designed to limit competition or fix prices.” Given the large number of competing HE institutions in the US and wide range of tuition costs, is that really the correct term? Btw, I don’t think putting the USG in charge of higher education accreditation is a good idea.

    MAA

    • Ha! I wanted to start a Uni in Florida. I had some investors. Then I was told by the RA, that I would have to operate for 7 years before I was able to APPLY. for NA, 3 years! So this means I would be called “rouge” by the likes of you for this time…so how does ANY NEW Uni have the chance to operate?? It is a CARTEL whereby the currently players and their apologists (read you) prevent new entrants into the market place.

      Answer my q: “how does a new player get in when they cannot qualify for NA or RA?”
      Soren

      • What did you expect? Immediate recognition? As you know, accreditors look at many facets of a university. You might want to review the information on the CHEA website (http://www.chea.org). I’m not an apologist; I just see it as the best existing model. And, no, USG control of higher education is not a viable alternative, IMO.

        You can use “rogue provider” and “unaccredited institution” interchangeably. “RP” simply means that there is no quality assurance or maintenance. (It’s more descriptive than UA and also more derogatory.)

        About “cartel” – I still don’t think you’re using the word properly (i.e., as reputable dictionaries define it). What you would be called would probably depend upon your priorities, standards and the reputation you establish within a short period of time. You are not being denied entry into the marketplace; you are simply being asked to jump over hurdles to ensure that your institution has met minimum standards of quality. Life is full of hoops to jump through (e.g., standardized exams, entrance exams, licensing exams, job interviews, auditions, etc.), right? Isn’t that one important way to ascertain merit? Do you want an unlicensed surgeon operating on you or a member of your family?

        There’s advice I could offer to people contemplating establishing a new university but I think that transcends the scope of this blog and would probably form the basis for a consultancy. The short answer to your question (I’d prefer “Please answer my question..” :-)) would be: do it well, do it right, plan ahead and be patient.

        MAA

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