School boards that need to verify the accreditation of institutions from which employees claim degrees can use a searchable database developed by the U.S. Department of Education, advised education commissioner Lucille Davy this week in a memo to chief school administrators.
In addition, the state Commission on Higher Education provides information on accreditation.
Davy recommends that school boards urge their staff members to also use the online resources available through the USDOE and the state higher education commission to check the status of an institution before enrolling.
The commissioner issued the September 2 memo in response to recent concerns about the use of advanced degrees from non-accredited institutions by New Jersey educators. NJSBA Executive Director Marie S. Bilik offered to distribute the document to local boards of education via School Board Notes.
NJSBA recommends that school boards establish a process for checking the validity of degrees when necessary and that they designate a staff member to perform the function,” said Bilik. “Our Legal and Policy Services Department is currently developing a sample policy that will be available through NJSBA’s Critical Policy Reference Manual.”
In addition, NJSBA’s new model superintendent contract (see related story) will call for submission of academic credentials to the school board.
“A certified copy of the Superintendent’s academic record, including course transcript for most recent degree earned, has been provided to the Board of Education and will kept on file in the Board office,” states the document. The model contract is expected to be available to boards of education by the end of the month.
In the meantime, board members seeking information on this issue may contact the policy unit at (888) 886-5722, ext. 5222.
Accrediting Agencies State law prohibits the use of a title (e.g., Ed.D., Ph.D., etc.) that provides “the protection accorded to an academic degree” unless it was awarded by a “duly authorized institution of higher education.” The statute defines such institutions as an “in-State institution licensed by the Commission on Higher Education or an out-of-state institution licensed by the appropriate state agency and regionally accredited or seeking accreditation by the appropriate accrediting body recognized by the Council on Postsecondary Education or the United States Department of Education.”
Davy’s memo identified the following regional accrediting agencies acceptable for out-of-state institutions: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools; New England Association of Schools and Colleges; North Central Association of Colleges and Schools; Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools; and Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
“Degrees earned from out-of-state institutions accredited by one of these [agencies] are legal for use in New Jersey [as are] degrees earned at New Jersey institutions of higher education licensed by the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education,” wrote Davy.
Growing Problem An incident involving a school administrator’s use of a “doctorate” from a non-accredited institution prompted the current concern in New Jersey. However, the growth of so-called diploma mills has caused concern at all levels of school employment throughout the nation. While the growth of the Internet has made available legitimate online degree programs to more students, it has also resulted in the growth of non-accredited “diploma mills” and fraudulent institutions, some of which adopt names that are strikingly similar to those of venerable, highly regarded schools.
The U.S. Department of Education has a Web page about fraudulent institutions. It includes links to several resources, including listings of diploma mills compiled by the Michigan and Texas higher education agencies.