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Published in Print: May 19, 2004, as Evaluator Reverses Position On Degrees From Saint Regis

Evaluator Reverses Position On Degrees From Saint Regis

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The continuing fallout from the Georgia "diploma mill" scandal, in which public school educators received advanced teaching credentials and pay raises using degrees from an online university, has led to reactions by several parties involved in the matter.

One reaction is a turnabout by Sheila Danzig, the operator of Career Consultants International, a credential-evaluation service that is part of Sunrise, Fla.-based National Success Marketing Inc. Last fall, she sent letters to Georgia officials stating that the degrees from Saint Regis University, the reputed diploma mill, were equivalent to degrees from a regionally accredited U.S. institution.

Ms. Danzig has acknowledged having financial ties to Saint Regis, which is said to be based in Liberia but appears to be run from the U.S. ("Educators’ Degrees Earned on Internet Raise Fraud Issues," May 5, 2004.) Others in the credential-evaluation field say those ties constituted a breach of professionalism and a conflict of interest.

In a May 6 e-mail sent to Education Week, Ms. Danzig said she would no longer rate Saint Regis degrees as equivalent to degrees from accredited U.S. institutions.

She restated her contention, however, that Saint Regis’ accreditation by the Liberian government, and the fact that Liberia’s higher education standards "are not substandard," mean that the university’s degrees should be considered equivalent to those from accredited schools in the United States.

"I believe that Saint Regis may well get things worked out, and if and when they do, I would reconsider evaluating them (as equivalent to an accredited U.S. school)," she wrote in the e-mail.

But a critic of Ms. Danzig’s professional practices, Dale Gough, a spokesman for the Washington-based American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, which includes companies that provide credential-evaluation services, said her turnabout on Saint Regis didn’t mean much.

"That horse is out of the barn," he said.

Beyond that situation, he said, his association has been urging state teacher-licensing boards and school district officials not to take accreditation by a foreign government at face value.

"Every year, we talk to them about how important it is to get evaluation of foreign credentials—not just as to the authenticity of the credential, but also what it represents," he said.

Liberian Reactions

Several Liberian government officials, meanwhile, affirmed last week that Saint Regis is accredited by their government.

Lawrence S. Bestman, the executive director of the Liberian Higher Education Commission, located in Monrovia, the nation’s capital, said in a telephone interview that "after thorough investigation," Saint Regis had been accredited last fall.

Yet some diploma mill experts in the United States have suggested that the political turmoil that persists in Liberia following a civil war has allowed corruption in many areas of government. They advise great caution in weighing a Liberian seal of approval.

Another reaction came from Saint Regis University itself, which announced last week that, because of criticism in the news media, it would begin "outsourcing" its admissions process for U.S.-based students and its online test for course credit to unspecified organizations in the United States.

Saint Regis’ Web site states that its degrees are conferred based on applicant’s life experience or can be earned online by taking its "proprietary" test. Fees range from $995 for a master’s degree to $1,500 for a doctorate. The university also says it offers 700 courses online, which can also lead to degrees.

Robert S. Stefaniak, 57, who was listed on the Saint Regis announcement as a public relations contact for Saint Regis, said in an interview that the degrees are legitimate.

Mr. Stefaniak said he does not know how many students Saint Regis has or other details, such as the identity of the university’s owners.

Mr. Stefaniak, who lives in Milwaukee, said he is a former radio host who has taught classes for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and worked with the Milwaukee public schools.

Listed as a faculty member at Saint Regis, he said he holds a master’s and a doctoral degree from the university. The master’s was based on a career spent in the radio and music business; the doctorate was based on developing materials for a Saint Regis course. But he said he has not yet taught any courses for the university.

Vol. 23, Issue 37, Pages 6-7

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