March 29, 2012
Tell me something, why do perfectly fine and accredited universities align themselves with shady start-ups in far-flung corners of the world? I ask this question because a week ago I came across an article in the NYT “An Albanian College Relying on U.S. Cachet” that speaks of exactly this very issue. Just the opening paragraph introducing this Albanian College as situated in a “dingy backstreet” in the Tirana, the Albanian Capital, is enough to give you the creeps. Yet, there it is: The University of New York, Tirana boasting an “arrangement with Empire State College, a division of the State University of New York system that is based in Saratoga Springs and is devoted to adult education and non-traditional learning.” Mind you, these “arrangements” are not unique to our accredited U.S.- based institutions. We are not alone; our counterparts in Britain and Australia are just as busy setting up “arrangements” with private education providers in the developing world.
An alumnus of the University of NY, Tirana, now attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas, complained that the courses he had taken were on a par with high school level subjects offered at an American high school. And that says a lot! It’s not about the content of courses and teaching staff, it’s the fact that a degree from an institution with an American-sounding name carries a great deal of cachet in a place such as Albania.
These so-called “arrangements” got a once-prominent academic institution, the University of Wales (founded in 1893), into hot water, so hot that it lost its accreditation in 2011 and was completely abolished. Thanks to an investigation by the BBC (nice to see journalism doing what it is meant to do–but I digress) which discovered that the University’s validation of programs offered by Fazley International College in Malaysia was being used to fraudulently award degrees and was even allowing students to obtain visas in order to work in the U.K.
Of course, these chummy arrangements are all about money. Students at the University of New York, Tirana pay more than $32,000 and for “an extra $100 or so per credit hour,” students taking classes in English can graduate and receive an American diploma. The same alum mentioned above says the following in the NYT article: “We didn’t even learn how to use a financial calculator. You are graduating with a degree in finance, and you don’t know how to use the calculator.” Here’s what Kevin Kinser, an expert on cross-border education at SUNY Albany is quoted as saying for the University of New York, Tirana, that the “connection with Empire State College is a way of developing legitimacy – a branding issue.” Someone’s definitely paying someone for the brand name or being associated with the brand.
I’m reminded of the saying “you are who you associate with,” and it seems it’s alive and well at our institutions of higher learning. Desperate for the almighty dollar, they are willing to give a part of themselves away, undermining their own credibility, and perhaps even contributing to their own demise. Let’s not forget what happened to the University of Wales.
The Frustrated Evaluator