Duped Degrees

Nov. 6, 2015
Some college degrees will not expedite the desired career transitions

Some college degrees will not expedite the desired career transitions

BY Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, MS

When I see a health-care provider, I not only look for the initials behind their name, my curiosity also leads me to look for a displayed diploma and the name of an institution of higher learning. Seeing MD, NP, ND, or RN is not enough; I want to know they have a proper education. Advice and recommendations for my health are valuable and taking the time to research credentials is a small price to pay.

Recently, I have discovered I am not alone in this desire to know.

A profession is often elevated or degraded by their educational requirements. We assume our judges and lawyers go to law school and our medical doctors go to medical school, but how often do we check, and how much do we really know about the institutions? I get emails at least once a week offering to sell me a diploma based on my life experience. These fake diplomas range from certificates to doctorates. A piece of paper is not proof of a good education.

The news has reports almost daily of health-care providers practicing without licenses or education, and the public is more willing to investigate their providers. It serves our profession well that many hold degrees and proudly display that evidence where they practice. We need to be willing and able to show and explain our education to patients who seek more information. However, let's stop calling it training. Dental hygienists are not trained; we are educated in college settings.

It is not difficult to find accreditation and other information about educational institutions. A neighbor recently alerted me to a website that lists "fake diploma" accrediting agencies. She was concerned about a school her granddaughter wanted to attend. Sadly, there are also agencies listed that accredit some bachelor completion programs. The public, as well as the professional, is being duped.

Your turn to do the background check

It is also a good idea to call your chosen school, college, or university and inquire about their accreditation. The admissions department can tell you what accreditations the school holds and also those they accept. This information is often available on their websites, but not always.

I recently spent an afternoon calling five schools advertised on TV for quick career education. All five were polite and appreciated my questions on accreditation. Of the five schools, four stated the credits earned or classes taken are only transferable to other schools under their college umbrella. Several popular names are actually run by one institution and the classes can be moved among their smaller schools. The fifth school went around in circles with answers to my questions but finally admitted the school is focused on a trade and gaining employment in that trade. Their accreditation comes from an agency outside the United States. The degree earned is not transferable to any other institution and is mainly used in gaining an edge during a job search. The school is highly respected in the trade taught and students are happy with the outcome. The degree is not the important end product in this particular situation.

The public wants to know their health-care providers are properly educated. This fact is also true for auto mechanics, accountants, and even cosmetologists. There would be no need for a website calling out "fake" accrediting agencies if the average citizen was not concerned or interested. If the public is showing concern over diploma mills, the student looking for an institution to attend should be equally aware and vigilant in choosing a properly accredited institution for educational pursuits.

The Better Business Bureau regards the following as red flags when considering enrolling in a school.

• Degrees that can be earned in less time than at an accredited postsecondary institution.

• A school claiming multiple accreditations. These schools will often list accreditation by organizations that are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

• Offers that place unrealistic emphasis on offering college credits for lifetime or real world experience.

• Tuition paid on a per-degree basis, or discounts for enrolling in multiple degree programs.

• Little or no interaction with professors.

• Names that are similar to well-known reputable universities.

• Addresses that are box numbers or suites.

Employers pay attention too

Recently, a colleague called me asking for advice on a matter related to her education and her employment. The company where she does part-time work gives a raise to those who achieve a bachelor's or higher degree. After receiving her bachelor's, she approached the employer with paperwork in hand to inquire about the pay increase. A few days later she received a call stating an increase would not be awarded because her diploma was from a school accredited by a questionable agency. When applying to attend the school, she was assured the accreditation was accepted everywhere and while not a U.S. accreditation, it was widely recognized. Unfortunately, that was not the case for her.

Online programs not associated with an existing university have a difficult time obtaining accreditation. Some say this will change as online education becomes more accepted; others say it is a safeguard to assure programs are based on accepted curriculum and not simply a way to purchase a diploma. Schools that do not have a physical building find even more difficulty achieving accreditation, as U.S. accrediting agencies will not provide accreditation without a physical building.

Some get around this by sharing office space with another existing school; others seek accreditation outside the United States. My purpose is not to judge or condemn these programs, but rather to provide some advice when seeking a college program for your goals.

An RDH recently spoke with me about her humiliating experience during a job interview. She did well in the first two rounds of interviewing and was given an expensive test to further her along in the process. She did well enough on the test to be interviewed by a high-level person in the company.

Between the test and the phone interview, a check was done on her educational background. As she had just received a bachelor's from a completion program, she was not concerned with the check. During the last interview, she was asked outright if she purchased her bachelor's degree. Shocked and dismayed, she replied no, and was then told her diploma was issued by a school accredited by an agency known for "selling" diplomas. She was turned down for the job after much time and cost to both herself and the company. Had she known ahead of time some employers would not accept the diploma, she would have finished her bachelor's at another institution.

For furthering education, it is important to know where your chosen program is obtaining accreditation. While some schools in the United States will accept students with accreditation from outside the country, others will not. If your goal is to achieve a master's or doctorate degree after your bachelor's, check in advance for admission requirements to the university of your choice. It is always a good idea to know where you plan to continue your education and contact that institution about accepted accreditation.

For personal fulfillment

Many people continue their education for personal fulfillment and not career advancement. The educational pursuit itself is very rewarding and personal. In this case, accreditation may not impact the decision in choosing an institution. In fact, there are several free online opportunities such as Khan Academy and Coursera offering university level classes for personal fulfillment. I have taken a few classes in this manner and was very happy with the content and experience.

Your educational pursuit is an individual one and should fit your goals and aspirations. There is a school, university, or program to fit every situation. Know your plans ahead of time and seek the diploma best suited to your unique objectives. Do not be intimidated to ask about accreditation, especially if you are obtaining a degree outside a university or community college setting. Private schools and online-only programs may have accreditation not transferable to other institutions.

My hope is for dental hygiene to become a profession that values higher education. While it will not always lead to increased income, higher degrees do lend credibility to a profession. Presenting ourselves as educated rather than trained will go a long way to showing the public our role and importance in health care.

I have yet to meet a person who had regret for acquiring more education. Determine your desired position in the profession, set goals to reach that destination, and get educated in the proper manner for success. RDH

Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, MS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a business responsible for the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topics. She is also a part-time educator and consultant for American Eagle, Livionex, and Nuvora. She can be contacted at [email protected].