University of the People Is Accredited, Just Not As You Might Think

By Christopher Zoukis / BlogCritcs.org

On February 14, 2014 the New York Times ran a story about a very promising initiative called the University of the People. This young online school, founded just four years ago, offers courses to disadvantaged and underserved groups mostly for free (application costs run $0 to $50 and examination costs are $100). The University of the People has 700 students from 142 countries currently taking classes. Some 25 percent are from the United States and 30 percent are from Africa.uop

While there are several popular online courseware platforms currently in existence – think of edX and Coursera – University of the People is different. Classes often consist of 20 to 30 students and run for ten weeks. Quizzes and homework assignments are expected of all students, regardless of the diverse range of countries where they might reside. While a reported 3,000 professors have volunteered, only 100 have actually been used in either courseware development or instruction. Current degree offerings include degrees in computer science and business administration.

The idea behind such an initiative is that there is a way to offer free – or very low-cost – high quality education to students anywhere in the world, all through a central course delivery system. Programs like the University of the People manage to do so through open courseware which often relies heavily on textual content. This is an essential component of any such global program due to the lack of broadband internet access in African countries, a major geographic focus of such educational initiatives.

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Accreditation Scams

By Garry W. Johnson

A reporter visited the websites of the high school’s accreditation agencies, the In­ternational Accrediting Agency for Online Universities and the Universal Council for Online Education Accreditation, and found they provided no address, names of staff, or listing of schools they certify.  Image courtesy academicdirections.com

Employees of Belford refused to give straight forward answers when a reporter called and asked why the accrediting agen­cies had such vague websites. When the re­porter mentioned that the agencies weren’t listed in the U.S. Department of Education’s database, the employee respon­ded – correctly, but irrelevantly – that the education department doesn’t accredit schools. Then he hung up. The reporter also called the accrediting agencies twice, but no one answered.

Post-Secondary Education Accreditation

Unlike bogus GED programs, college legit­imacy is a little harder to nail down, espe­cially in the United States. In other nations most colleges and universities are operated by the government, just as the public school system is here. But colleges in the U.S. are private (like diploma mills) or state facilities, and the federal government does not have a body of experts who in­vestigate and approve individual schools. In fact, accreditation in this country is en­tirely a voluntary process. The government does not commission accrediting agencies; they are essentially private firms made up of experts for investigating and deeming worthy schools that are willing to be ac­credited. This lack of central supervision has led to there being good accreditation and bad accreditation.

Take for example an accrediting agency that calls itself the Accrediting Commission for Specialized Colleges. This agency ac­credits, among others, a school named Indi­ana Northern Graduate School. The name sounds impressive, but investigators found the school to be nothing more than a dairy farm in Gas City. The accrediting agency will accredit anyone willing to mail them a check for $110.

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The Need for Program Accreditation

By Christopher Zoukis

Here at FCI Petersburg the Education Department offers several programming opportunities.  These include GED classes, English-as-a-Second Language classes, and Adult Continuing Education (ACE) courses.  With the exception of the GED program, none of these programs offer outside recognition of course completion.  None of the courses — outside of the GED program — are accredited or recognized as formal educational endeavors.  Image courtesy onlineuniversityfaq.com

I’m all for learning for learning’s sake.  As a matter of fact, I’m not only on the testing crew for the new self-paced ACE program here at FCI Petersburg, but I even take a different traditional ACE course each quarter.  I do this because I enjoy taking classes and find it helpful to analyze other teachers’ methods of instruction.  I feel that both my own knowledge base and teaching skills can be enhanced through these courses.  This is regardless of program accreditation.  Though I would certainly be interested in a program which I could add to a resume; something to help my employment prospects upon release.  Sadly, a Federal Bureau of Prisons’ educational certificate is not going to do the trick.

Prisoners as a whole are an under-educated class.  When they attend classes on resume writing or job interviews, they are at a loss for what to do with a resume and what to tell an employer.  This is because many only have a GED; not even a real high school diploma.  Some lack even a GED.  Something needs to be done about this.  If a prisoner is at a loss for how to explain their lack of an adequate work or educational history while in a classroom setting, which is designed to prepare them for job interviews, then the actual interviews will almost certainly be total failures.  As correctional educators, we should not accept this.  We should strive to prepare our students for success, not probable failure.  In my mind, when my students fail, it is really me failing them since it was they who put their trust in me to prepare them for success.

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