Diploma Mills: 9 Strategies for Tackling One of Higher Education’s Most Wicked Problems

Dec17_DiplomaMill2

us higher ed export

Here’s another excellent report from World Education Services about an important issue that receives too little attention in the US and global media.  This is an issue I have been writing and speaking about since my IIE-Viet Nam days.  In fact, it was one of my “signature issues” and one that I have continued to focus on from time to time.  (Explore my blog for more information.) 

The above quote is one I’ve used when talking about this issue.  It refers not only to diploma mills but to institutions that offer substandard education and training, and are basically money-making machines, regardless of whether they are for- or non-proft.  This includes nationally accreditation institutions, many of which are in accreditation “no man’s land,” since the dissolution of ACICS.  (Check out this 2016 BuzzFeed investigative report that was the beginning of the end for ACICS.)  As the above graphic points out, many are located in the US and in California, in particular.

Thankfully, this is less of an issue in Viet Nam ever since the government, through its Ministry of Education and Training (MoET), said it would no longer recognize degrees earned from unaccredited institutions, i.e., rogue providers, nor would it allow Vietnamese institutions to partner with these bottom-feeding institutions.  There is also much more awareness about the value of institutional and programmatic accreditation as a means of quality assurance and maintenance.

MAA
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“best phd degree for purchase”

finally doneThis search term and others like it, e.g., p.hd buy, lead unsuspecting netizens to my blog which, of course, doesn’t provide information about how to buy academic degrees but rather rants and raves against diploma mills and rogue providers, most of which are based in the US, sorry to say.

Speaking of the US, those who have earned a Ph.D. are members of a pretty select group in that country.  According to the US Census Bureau, 1.77% of all US Americans age 25 and over have one.  That group is even more select in countries that do not have a mass education system.

Here’s what Peterson’s had to say about Ph.D. programs with the understated title Ph.D. Programs Are Rigorous Educational Experiences:

Ph.D. programs—for that matter, any doctoral program—will take years to complete. Depending on what you’re studying and how much time you can put into your studies and dissertation, doctoral programs can consume anywhere from 3 to 6 to 9 years or more. Earning a Ph.D. degree can be so time-consuming that many candidates cannot work full-time, and they often live on stipends and fellowships to help make ends meet while they haunt the research labs and libraries. These graduate programs are perhaps the most rigorous educational experience people can have, but when they are complete, the recipients are considered to be individuals who add intellectual and scholarly value to their fields.

Another point worth mentioning is that an estimated 50% of US doctoral students do not complete their degree.  Many of them complete their coursework but are unable to reach the summit, i.e., write and defend their dissertation, meaning they are forever ABD (“all but dissertation”).

What does it take to complete a Ph.D.?  Intelligence (brilliance is not a prerequisite but certainly doesn’t hurt), passion, creativity, a strong work ethic and, most importantly, perseverance.  It’s a long, hard slog and if you don’t have the fire in the belly and a good support system, you will never reach the light at the end of the tunnel, the promised land of degree conferral and life after your Ph.D. program.  You will end up in advanced degree limbo known as ABD.  Real Ph.D.s and the experience on which they’re based offer many tangible and intrinsic benefits that last a lifetime.  The slog is well worth it.

life after phdPrestige, of course, is why so many people want to buy one.  Why invest all of that blood, sweat and tears when you can fill out an online form, including your credit card information and, voilà, you’re “Dr.” Somebody.

Side Note:  While the Ph.D. is a research degree and most graduates pursue a career as a professor, whose primary tasks are research, teaching and services – in that order at many institutions – there are other career paths that take full advantage of everything on which the degree is based.

For those who buy a Ph.D. what happens though when people ask Where did you get your Ph.D.?  Just ask well-known people with fake degrees who have ended up in media stories about academic fraud.  A bit of advice for those who choose to buy their Ph.D.:  For God’s sake, don’t include it in your bio or LinkedIn profile!

The easy answer to the question about where to buy the “best phd degree” is that the best Ph.D. degrees are earned, not purchased like computers or smartphones.  Some things just aren’t for sale.

MAA

Thiết lập thông tin chính xác, nghiêm túc

SBTN

Đây là bài cuối cùng tôi viết trong năm 2014, một năm thành công trên nhiều mặt. Dưới đây, tôi xin kể một tình huống đã trải qua khi dùng internet để dẫn chứng thêm nhận định về Internet , công cụ vừa mang lại những tiện ích, vừa là mối hiểm họa khó lường. Và bài học rút ra ở đây là gì? Hãy đọc, tiếp thu mọi thứ bằng đầu óc phân tích khôn ngoan, kiểm tra rõ ràng các nguồn và luôn đặt câu hỏi về nội dung. Hãy dừng lại và suy nghĩ trước khi đâm đầu theo hiệu ứng đám đông.

Vào cuối tháng 10, Đài truyền hình truyền thông Sài Gòn (SBTN) ở Garden Grove, CA, USA phát hành một bài viết (Không tìm thấy trang/Page Not Found), trích dẫn bài viết của tôi, kèm theo một danh sách các tổ chức giáo dục bậc cao không được kiểm định tại Mỹ đã được đăng tải ở đây từ năm 2010. Trước khi bài báo này được gỡ xuống (tôi có thể đoán được lý do, nhưng nếu chưa rõ ràng, tôi thiết nghĩ không nên phỏng đoán ở những diễn đàn chung), nó đã có mặt trên rất nhiều các blogs khác nhau và tôi cũng nhận thấy lượng truy cập vào trang blog cá nhân An International Educator in Vietnam tăng lên. Ngoài ra, tôi còn nhận được email cảm ơn về bài viết. Thực ra, danh sách kia được lấy từ 1 bài viết từ năm 2010 của tôi và được tôi cập nhật lại vào năm 2012. Nói cách khác, đó là thông tin đã lỗi thời, được xào lại để sử dụng vào mục đích chính trị . Vậy tại sao lại có việc bài báo này dựa trên những nguồn tin đã lỗi thời nhằm phục vụ các mục đích chính trị khác nhau? Hãy đọc thêm để hiểu rõ hơn về điều này.

Động cơ của bài báo của SBTN là nhằm bắt giữ Hà Văn Thắm, cựu chủ tịch Ocean Bank. Vào năm 2012, ông Thắm đồng ý cho công ty bất động sản Trung Dung vay số tiền 500 tỉ đồng (23,5 triệu đô la) mà không cần thế chấp. Các phương tiện thông tin đại chúng cho rằng công ty Trung Dung có khả năng bị vỡ nợ. Đến cuối năm 2013, tổng giá trị tài sản của ông Thắm đạt đến con số 1500 tỉ đồng (khoảng 70.7 triệu đô la), nâng ông lên vị trí thứ 8 trong số những người giàu nhất trên thị trường chứng khoán, cũng như tỉ phú ngân hàng tính theo giá trị đồng nội tệ.

Trên tài khoản LinkedIn và Wikipedia, ông Thắm nói mình “có bằng cử nhân Đại học Thương mại và bằng thạc sỹ tại trường Đại học Columbia Commonwealth. Ông cũng là tiến sỹ chuyên ngành Quản trị Kinh doanh trường Đại học Công nghệ Paramount”. Cả 2 trường đại học này đều không được cấp chứng nhận kiểm định tại Hoa Kỳ và có tên trong danh sách tôi nói trên, tạo ra một câu chuyện ngoài lề nhanh chóng trở nên rầm rộ trên các diễn đàn, bao gồm cả diễn đàn này. Cũng như nhiều trường hợp khác, nó đơn giản chỉ là một bài viết được SBTN sao chép từ bài blog gốc của tôi, đăng lên và sau đó đã phải gỡ xuống.

diploma-mills-top

Xuất phát từ Quận Cam, Cali, không có gì quá ngạc nhiên nếu như các bài viết của SBTN luôn mang màu sắc chính trị. Ví dụ, họ đưa thông tin sai lệch rằng Bộ Giáo dục và Đào tạo (GD&ĐT – MoET) không lên tiếng gì về vấn đề này, và đổ lỗi cho Chính Phủ Việt Nam đã không có bất kỳ động thái gì. Trên thực tế, như tôi đề cập đến trong một bài viết vào tháng 8 năm 2010, bộ GD&ĐT đã không chấp nhận các chương trình liên kết bất hợp pháp và thông báo sẽ không công nhận bằng cấp của những chương trình liên kết được giảng dạy bởi các trường quốc tế không có chứng nhận kiểm định. Nhân đây, tôi cũng xin nói luôn về vấn đề này:

Dường như đây là một câu chuyện với hồi kết có hậu. Vào tuần thứ 2 của tháng 8, Giáo sư Nguyễn Xuân Vang, Giám đốc ban phát triển Giáo dục Quốc tế của bộ GD&ĐT đã trả lời trong một buổi phỏng vấn rằng những chương trình liên kết không hợp lệ sẽ bị coi là phạm pháp và bộ giáo dục sẽ không công nhận bằng cấp từ các chương trình liên kết giữa Việt Nam và các đối tác nước ngoài không được kiểm định. Theo dõi bản dịch tiếng Anh ở link này: Bộ giáo dục sẽ từ chối các chứng chỉ, bằng cấp được trao bởi những những chương trình liên kết kém chất lượng. Đây là những gì ngài Giáo sư yêu cầu, như liều thuốc giảm đau cho vấn đề xã hội nhức nhối này.

Tôi nhớ đến nhà cựu lãnh đạo cũ của Trung Quốc Deng Xiaoping, người từng nói “Hãy mở cửa sổ ra, hít thở không khí trong lành, đồng thời tiêu diệt hết ruồi muỗi và côn trùng”. Ở Việt Nam,khi mà những cánh cửa đang được mở ra, tôi cảm nhận cũng như nhìn thấy rất rõ những màn chắn được dựng lên bên cạnh những cánh cửa đó, để bảo vệ quyền lợi cho học viên.

Một điểm nữa mà bài báo của SBTN lẽ ra nên nhắc tới, nếu như những người biên tập bỏ đi nhận thức mù mờ , về việc những dịch vụ lừa đảo đang hoạt động(hoặc đã và đang hoạt động) tại Việt Nam đều có trụ sở ở Mỹ. Vậy tại sao chính phủ Mỹ không xây dựng nên một quy chế quốc gia để ngăn cấm các trường Đại học lừa gạt sinh viên, làm ô nhiễm thị trường lao động với những bằng cấp và chứng chỉ giả mạo, làm hoen ố danh tiếng của nền giáo dục bậc cao Hoa Kỳ? SBTN lờ đi thực tế rõ ràng này vì đó không dính vào mục tiêu chính trị của họ.

MAA

NOTE:  This is the Vietnamese version of this 31.12.14 post:  Journalism or Political Ax-Grinding?: Setting the Record Straight

Journalism or Political Ax-Grinding?: Setting the Record Straight

SBTN

My last post of 2014, a great year, in many respects.  Below I describe one online adventure that illustrates the status of the Internet as both a blessing and a curse.  The main lesson here?  Read everything with a critical eye, check the source and question the intent.  Pause and think before jumping on the cyber bandwagon.

In late October, the Saigon Broadcasting Television Network (SBTN) in Garden Grove, CA, USA published an article (current status:  Không tìm thấy trang/Page Not Found) that quoted me and included a list of US-based unaccredited institutions of higher education that originally appeared here in 2010.  Before the article was taken down from the website (I can guess why, aside from the obvious, but would rather not speculate in a public forum), it was picked up by numerous blogs and I noticed a substantial spike in traffic to An International Educator in Vietnam.  I also received some emails thanking me for the post.  In fact, the list was taken from a 2010 blog post of mine, which I updated in 2012.  In other words, it was old news that was being recycled for political purposes.  Political ax-grinding masquerading as journalism.  Why?  Read on…

The impetus for the original SBTN article was the arrest of Ha Van Tham, the chairman of Ocean Bank.  In 2012, he approved a loan of VND 500 billion ($23.5 million) to Trung Dung real estate company without proper collateral. The media reported that Trung Dung is likely to default on the loan.  As of the end of 2013, Tham’s net worth reached VND 1.5 trillion ($70.7 million), making him the eighth richest person in the stock market, i.e., a banking billionaire in local currency.

As his LinkedIn account and Wikipedia entry note, Tham “earned a bachelors degree from the Vietnam University of Commerce, and a masters from Columbia Commonwealth University. He is a Doctor of Business Administration at Paramount University of Technology.”  It is the last two, both US-based unaccredited schools that happen to appear on my list, which spawned a side story that went viral in the blogosphere, including on this blog.  Like the others, it simply reprinted the subsequently retracted SBTN article, which did a copy and paste job from my original blog post.

diploma-mills-topOriginating in Orange County, CA, it should come as no surprise that the SBTN article had a political ax to grind.  For example, it made the incorrect point that the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) had remained silent about this issue, blaming the Vietnamese government for doing nothing.  In fact, as I pointed out in a August 2010 post MoET made unauthorized joint training programs illegal and announced that would not recognize the diplomas of programs offered in cooperation with unaccredited foreign partners.  Here’s what I had to say about this step forward:

There is a seemingly happy ending to this story.  The second week of August Dr. Nguyễn Xuân Vang, director of the International Education Development Department of the Ministry of Education and Training (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.  Follow this link to read the English translation of the interview:  MoET will refuse degrees granted by low-quality joint training programmes.  This is just what the doctor ordered, a salve for this societal growing pain.  

I think it was the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping  who once said “Open the windows, breathe the fresh air and at the same time fight the flies and insects.”  While the windows remain open in Vietnam, I do see the slow but sure installation of screens on some windows related to learner protection. 

Another point the SBTN article could have mentioned, had the editors removed their ideological blinders for just a moment, is that most rogue providers that are operating (or have operated) in Vietnam are based in the US.  Why doesn’t the US government develop a national policy and ban these faux universities that cheat students of their money, pollute the world of work with fake educational credentials and tarnish the reputation of legitimate US higher education?  SBTN overlooked this obvious fact because it doesn’t mesh with its political agenda.

MAA

Fraud Alert!

pig-lipstick

Sleazydishonest or immoral; marked by low character or quality

  • Synonyms:  skanky [slang], slatternly, sluttish, slutty, trampy
  • Antonyms:  excellent, fine, first-class, first-rate, good, high-grade, superior, top-notch

125px-Flag_of_California.svgYes, dear reader, here’s another story about a US institution of higher education that uses lies and deception as key tactics in its aggressive student recruitment strategy in Vietnam and elsewhere.  And, yes, it’s based in the great state of California (sorry, CA friends!), home to Hollywood, some of the nation’s finest climates, one of the breadbaskets of the world and a motley crew of unaccredited and nationally accredited (NA) institutions, i.e., for-profit education companies, in most cases.  In the interest of time, let me just mention three examples about this NA school:

  1. Claims to have a letter from the US President congratulating its students on their graduation.  Of course, the image on their website is so small that it’s hard to see what Mr. President wrote and it doesn’t appear to be real White House stationery.
  2. Has its name on an office building it claims to be its campus.  Nothing unusual, right?  The only problem is the name is photoshopped onto a building in which it probably has a suite of offices and classrooms.  This is well beyond exaggeration.  False advertising, anyone?
  3. Has a senior administrator who was previously a senior administrator with an unaccredited, CA-based institution.  A leopard can’t change its spots, as the saying goes.

By the way, since said NA school is “officially accredited”, it has the right to be represented and promoted by the US government, including the Departments of State (i.e., EducationUSA) and Commerce (Commercial Service).  In case you’re wondering, it’s also SEVIS-approved, meaning it’s authorized to issue I-20s, which enable international students to apply for a student visa.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

fraudI will not mention the name of the offending institution only to say that I’ll be updating my list of nationally accredited US schools doing business, or trying to do business, in Vietnam in the near future.  At that time, you can use your formidable powers of deduction to figure it out.  Once you do, you can post a comment that says something to this effect:  “No shit, Sherlock.”

By the way, a little birdie told me that some doors are closing for this sad excuse for a university in Vietnam and that’s a good thing.  Hurray for a small measure of justice in a largely unjust world!

MAA

Accreditation: When It Comes To Higher Education, Nothing Could Be More Relevant – Or Controversial

Good article by Jesse Nickles of CollegeTimes and not just because I’m quoted in it.

MAA

Photo courtesy of CollegeTimes
Photo courtesy of CollegeTimes

Accreditation. It’s a word that most college students have heard at some point, but that (unfortunately) very few actually comprehend on a meaningful level.

And that is NOT a good thing. With greedy investors and corrupt congressmen aggressively turning college into a for-profit industry devoid of traditional academic discourse and teeming with unqualified faculty, dishonest recruiting practices, and fly-by-night campuses, more and more students are being scammed into attending schools that are a complete waste of time and money. Sadly, in many cases these students could have avoided a huge financial and emotional crisis by simply researching the world of ‘accreditation’ more carefully – (if only they knew how!).

Follow this link to read the rest of the article.

MAA

Notarization: The Trojan Horse Approach to Gaining Credibility for a Diploma Mill Diploma

pwu diplomaNo·ta·rize (nō′tə-rīz′): To certify or attest to (the validity of a signature on a document, for example) as a notary public. It’s often what one bureaucracy requires of another to prove that a document is authentic. This is one of the many fee-based services offered by embassies and consulates general in Vietnam. What if the document being notarized is not authentic?

Here’s a hypothetical case. A man walks into Embassy X and requests that his diploma mill Ph.D. diploma be notarized. The Embassy notarizes said document because “Dr. Cuong” can prove – with proper ID – that it is indeed his (fake) diploma and sign an affidavit confirming that fact. It matters not that it was “earned” (i.e., bought) from a notorious US-based diploma mill that has reared its ugly head in the Vietnamese media in recent years.  What’s wrong with this picture?

[According to Transparency International, corruption in education is particularly damaging because it endangers a country’s social, economic and political future.  The use of fake educational credentials is a clear-cut example of corruption.]

After paying a modest fee, producing ID and signing on the dotted line, “Dr. Cuong” leaves the Embassy a happy man.  He has in his possession an educational credential that – at least on paper – has more credibility and recognition than it did when he entered. Why check on the accreditation status of “Unaccredited US University” when the diploma was notarized by a well-known foreign mission?

This, of course, is why six (6) of the search engine terms that bring netizens to my blog are where can i buy a phd.  Most of these “consumers” are what are known as willing co-conspirators.  Question:  Given the fact that Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) has clamped down on the use of “degrees” from unaccredited foreign institutions, what will “Dr. Cuong” do with his diploma mill degree?  Your thoughts? 

MAA