Looking at Colleges on the Web? Let the Buyer Beware A Growing Number of Internet Universities Are Setting Up in Hawaii. Butnot All Are Valid Schools

By Alex Salkever, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

Looking at Colleges on the Web? Let the Buyer Beware A Growing Number of Internet Universities Are Setting Up in Hawaii. Butnot All Are Valid Schools


Alex Salkever, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


People who clicked on the Web site of American State University may have thought they had entered an academic paradise.

The school, registered in Hawaii, promised that students could earn a bachelor's degree or PhD online. Degrees that normally cost tens of thousands of dollars would only set applicants back $5,000 or less. And rather than slaving away in dank libraries, students could get their degree from the comfort of their own home.

Too good to be true? The State of Hawaii thought so. It sued American State University for violating state disclosure laws and implying that the school was accredited. According to Jeffrey Brunton, an attorney in the state Office of Consumer Protection, the school was nothing more than two men taking in cash and handing out diplomas. The school has now shut down. But it was only one of a rapidly growing number of institutes of higher education hawking easy degrees on the Web. While exact numbers are hard to discern, experts say there are hundreds, if not thousands, of such schools awarding degrees. "It's like wildfire on the lawn of Academe," says Michael Lambert, executive director of the Distance Education and Training Council in Washington. "The Internet has rekindled the old-fashioned diploma mill." Age-old industry Dubious degrees are nothing new. In Renaissance England, there was a brisk trade in fake diplomas from Oxford and Cambridge. After the University of Chicago launched the first correspondence courses early this century, imitations cropped up, giving such courses a bad name. But the Internet has proven a perfect vehicle for degree programs that carry little weight in the job market. Web sites that cost less than $100 per month have replaced expensive traditional print and television advertising and have enabled just about anyone to hang out a shingle as a place of higher learning. Furthermore, the Internet augments the ability of these schools to operate across borders and to reach millions of potential students quickly and easily, including foreigners that want a US degree. These schools tend to register in lightly regulated states. Hawaii, where anyone with a business license can award degrees, is considered the capital of these schools. …

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