Bogus degrees a growth industry?
Nobody's really sure how many questionable college degrees are out there, how many institutions are producing them or how much money they're making. But now that we know Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Walt McNeil claims a master's degree from St. John's University in Springfield, La. – an obscure school founded by a hypnotherapist that some experts find worthy of scrutiny (see St. Petersburg Times stories here and here) – it makes you kind of wonder, no?
Here are some guesstimates on the money-maker question: According to a recent letter from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to all 50 governors, available data suggests degree mills are "at least a $500 million enterprise and growing rapidly." Meanwhile, two widely respected degree-mill experts, John Bear and Allen Ezell, say in the subtitle to their 2005 book on the issue that degree mills are "The Billion-Dollar Industry That Has Sold Over a Million Fake Diplomas." (If you click here fast enough, you can get a copy for $2.97.)
While we're on the subject, one of the Times stories mentioned that Claude Pepper, the late, great Florida Congressman, once obtained a bogus doctoral degree to show the country how easy it was to get one. The story forgot to mention the punch line: According to Bear (and his piece here in Quackwatch), Pepper then proclaimed himself "Dr. Pepper." For more on Pepper's concerns about degree mills, read this New York Times story.
- Ron Matus, state education reporter