I was answering calls in one of the country’s largest teacher’s union when asked about the legitimacy of a college degree from a well-known diploma mill run by correspondence through the mail. Many people naively think that if the government does not shut down a school, it is okay, but this is not the case. Many notoriously fraudulent schools and programs have run for years. They regularly grant “diplomas” that are not worth the paper they are written on, and perhaps in less rigorously fact-checked days even landed the unqualified a job.
But now, you cannot count on sloppy record-keeping. And the diploma mills have become more costly and insidious than ever as they prey on the hopeful, naive and foreign born. Here are some tips to make sure you don’t get taken.
Use as an example a school I will call, “California Dreaming.” The caller that day referred to a teacher’s degree from that school, but I was already familiar with it, having heard its name in conjunction with false engineering degrees a decade earlier when I was an administrative assistant to the Director of Accreditation for a society of professional engineers.
Whether you are looking to become an engineer or a teacher, skip the correspondence school degrees. Several paths let you know whether a school or program offered is worthless before burning your money.
Let’s begin with licensing requirements. Most professions in the United States including teaching, engineering and accounting offer or require professional licensing from the state in which one intends to practice. By contacting the appropriate state licensing agencies, many potential cons can be nipped in the bud.
Foreign born students may be astonished to learn that we do not have national licenses in this country. Instead, the ability to license, like many other powers, are granted by our Constitution to the states. So if you want to be an engineer in New York State, call the licensing agency for New York State.
Sometimes the appropriate professional society is an even better resource. For example, when accountants graduate, they are not finished with their educations. Instead, if they wish to become certified public accountants, they must pass a special examination and take so many hours of continuing education to keep the qualification.
For certified public accountants try The American Society of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Engineering acts in a similar vein. Are you planning to become a civil engineer? Then contact The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). How about become a mechanical engineer? Then call the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). There is a major society for each sub-specialty of engineering.
The overall authority for all accreditation of engineering programs in the United States rests with the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) which each engineering society supports financially and by providing skilled volunteers from academia and industry for accreditation visits.
Sometimes the major unions in a field are important. For example, if you wish to become a licensed New York City Teacher, you would be well advised to call both the New York Department of Education in Albany and the United Federation of Teachers, New York City’s teacher’s union for advice. Speaking to representatives of both the potential employer and the union is essential . Both the union and the Department of Education field major initiatives to assure quality teachers.
Should you wish to become a licensed electrician, speak to your local electrician’s union. For example, the International Brotherhood of Electricians, Local 3 in New York. Typically, apprenticeships and training in the skilled construction trades are provided through the union and many of the programs require as many as five years of training. The carpenter’s union, steamfitter’s union and so forth each offer apprenticeships and training. Prized union cards are often handed down through families and offer entry to the better-paying jobs as well as assurance that the tradesman actually knows the safe and correct way to do things.
Both schools and programs can be accredited, and an accredited school may have an unaccredited program. For example, if you plan to attend a college or trade school in New York City, you should call the Department of Education to make sure that the school itself is accredited.
But don’t stop there. If you will be licensed to practice, call the licensing board for your state and the appropriate professional society such as the American Medical Society, American Bar Association, American Institute of Certified Public Accounts, American Society of Chemical Engineers and so forth.
If the job is in a skilled trade, call the local union.
Don’t assume Big Brother has your back. To save money and heartache, do your spadework first.