A realistic look at fake degrees

  • Education
  • Sunday, 16 Feb 2003

I REFER to your cover story on fake PhDs (Star Education, Jan 26) and would like to share with your readers my knowledge on degree mills that I gained in pursuit of my own PhD degree. 

Educational institutions can be broadly placed in three categories – degree mills, non-traditional legitimate universities, and traditional officially recognised universities. 

Degree mills are institutions that grant fake degrees in exchange for money, without requiring the student to show proof of course mastery or to do substantive coursework or academic research. Degree mills confer degrees generally based upon life experience. There are currently more than 150 well-known degree mills. One well-known degree mill was Columbia State University that has been shut down by the state of Louisiana. It offered college degrees in as short as 27 days! 

Among the common warning signs for degree mills are:  

·The only listed address for the institution is a box or suite number;  

·The name of the institution is similar to that of a reputable university; 

·The website is lacking in specifics (e.g. academic programmes and faculty); and 

·The institution offers a degree based almost entirely on lifetime or real world experience. 

Non-traditional legitimate universities generally do offer instruction and mentoring, but lack official course recognition. There are a few fairly credible non-traditional universities with distinguished faculties that do not choose to seek any form of legitimate accreditation. The degrees of some non-traditional universities are valued by employers and professional associations.  

As stated by George M. Brown in an analytical and comprehensive paper on degree mills presented at the 16th Australian International Education Conference last year, some of these universities “are very sincere in their endeavours”. 

Most non-traditional universities require less rigorous academic work than traditional officially-recognised universities and are more appealing to mid-career professionals who have demonstrated their expertise in a particular area. 

Traditional officially recognised universities are universities that have been established by an act of Parliament or are accredited by a government-approved agency. It is wise for those aspiring to work in the public sector and the academic world to gain degrees from such universities.  

I would also like to inform your readers that one could also obtain a PhD based upon publications. The published works submitted for assessment can consist of papers, monographs, books and enduring records of creative work. To be awarded a PhD by way of published work, a candidate must show that his or her work makes a significant contribution to knowledge in a particular field. 

As for an honorary doctorate, one should bear in mind that it is also awarded to an individual who has made significant contribution to knowledge in a particular field, and not just to society or a specific cause such as promoting education.  

In the final analysis, the pursuit of an academic degree ultimately boils down to self-integrity. Anyone who is conferred a fake degree will never be able to walk tall in the presence of others who have secured theirs through sheer hard work. Losing face in one’s own eyes is highly detrimental to the development of self-esteem. Indeed, when one loses self-respect, one can never be at peace with oneself!  


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