Whitehorse Daily Star

‘Diploma mills’ are prolific, but also easy to spot: scholar

The institution where a high-ranking Education department administrator got his PhD appears to be part of a broader trend of bogus degree production, says an Ontario scholar.

By Christopher Reynolds on November 7, 2014

The institution where a high-ranking Education department administrator got his PhD appears to be part of a broader trend of bogus degree production, says an Ontario scholar.

Several studies show unaccredited graduate degrees are flourishing in North America, devaluing the hard work of grad students and pointing to a process of self-deception and victimization of the recipients.

Albert Trask, the Yukon’s assistant deputy minister of public schools, earned his “doctorate” in biblical studies from Newburgh Theological Seminary, an online learning institution based in an Indiana suburb.

The bible college is unaccredited in the U.S. by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the federal Department of Education as well as the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.

Trask, on top of signing his name “Dr.” on department correspondence, also chairs the teacher certification board, responsible for verifying new teachers’ academic credentials.

After weeks of silence, both Trask and Education deputy minister Valerie Royle affirmed their faith in the integrity of the PhD and the school it came from — “One of America’s Best Seminary Bible Colleges!” according to its website.

Mark Sholdice, a doctoral candidate at the University of Guelph in Ontario, noted the red flags flapping at Newburgh and comparable institutions.

“Degree mills are easy to spot: low fees, no supervision, little required in the way of work, no accreditation from the major organizations,” he said in an email.

“The fact that the degree would only take 50 hours is scandalous.”

The biblical studies stream at the college demands 50 credit-hours and a succession of book reports from its students. It requires little to no original research, academic supervision or peer-recognized standards of quality or publication — all integral to an authentic PhD program, Sholdice noted.

On its website, Newburgh encourages students to complete their PhD, which costs $2,595 plus the price of six textbooks, in less than two years.

Sholdice, a history student who has spent more than four years working toward his PhD, stressed the damage such questionable qualifications can inflict.

“It’s very important that we prevent these fraudulent degrees from being accepted or recognized because they have absolutely no value. If someone is hired or promoted on the basis of such a degree, it undermines the organization employing them, and the educational system in general,” he said.

Identifying diploma mills is essential “to uphold our standards for hard work and quality,” he added.

An exposé by a retired FBI agent and a distance education expert found that roughly 50,000 dubious PhDs are purchased annually in the U.S., compared to 40,000 to 45,000 valid doctorates earned after years of study.

“In other words, more than half of all people claiming a new PhD have a fake degree,” write Allen Ezell and John Bear in their 2012 book, Degree Mills: The Billion-dollar Industry That Has Sold Over a Million Fake Diplomas.

Those spurious credentials included both counterfeit degrees — akin to a forged driver’s licence — and degrees from unaccredited institutions. These degrees “can require some academic work but significantly less than comparable, legitimate accredited programs,” according a 2008 article in the Journal of Economic Issues, “An Introduction to the Economics of Fake Degrees.”

The authors note that “bogus universities” are often vouched for by equally specious accreditation agencies. More than 200 “accreditation mills” were in production as of 2004, according to the study.

Newburgh claims accreditation via the California-based Transworld Accrediting Commission International, which the deputy minister pointed out. Like Newburgh, that agency is unrecognized by the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Newburgh states on its website that it “will continue to shy away from any kind of accreditation that might weaken our ability to train men and women to be effective servants of Christ in their church and place of ministry service.

“The main question to be asked when considering a school is ‘Is this the school that will please God?’ If it pleases God, then it doesn’t matter who is displeased.”

Keith Wilhite, a professor at Newburgh who purchased his PhD there, denied any hint of deception or illegitimacy at the school.

“There’s about 50 certification groups out there and we’ve chosen the one that we think is the best for us,” he told the Star in an interview.

He said the bible college currently enrolls about 3,500 students.

Sholdice lays some of the blame for the ongoing North American degree scam at the doors of such online schools, rather than their students.

“I don’t see it just as people committing fraud or taking advantage of the situation,” he said in a phone interview. “I think there’s a lot of self-deception going on.

“I think it’s that they’re being victimized by institutions exploiting this yearning for recognition.

“It makes you realize how much of our society is built on reputation — reputation, rank, accreditation. You realize how many assumptions we make of each other based on the titles we take.”

Comments (15)

Up 3 Down 0

Michael anash on Jun 18, 2018 at 10:27 am

You don't need 60% of what you study at a regular university for your PhD (minimum 4 years) at your work or teaching position after graduation. So why not do it at NTS?

Up 5 Down 0

Klady on Mar 7, 2018 at 5:57 pm

I think we need to see the situation as a personal thing. Everyone’s situation is different. I do hold a Masters Degree from an accredited college. Afterwards, I spent 5 years in an accredited institution for a Doctor of Education Degree. After three years of coursework, out of town residencies, workshops and 2 years into my dissertation, I was met with unexpected delays in feedback on my work and waiting for approvals. This led to many out of pocket expenses. I ultimately made the decision to end the madness. They offered me an EdS Degree for all of my coursework and I accepted it-rather than walking away without a degree after all of my time, money and research. NTS was a God send. I now have the opportunity to receive an EdD or a PhD without having to go through the entire doctoral process all over again. I simply cannot afford to do that. I am not descredlting ANYONE with a PhD from any accredited institution because obviously I am intelligent enough to know not to apply to Harvard or Yale for a teaching position. I will be using my degree from NTS to enhance my teaching ministry at my church.

Up 5 Down 1

Good guy on Sep 19, 2016 at 6:34 pm

Newburgh Theological Seminary is not the issue here. The school makes no claim for government accreditation nor does it have to, NTS is compiling a nice history of training men and women for church work, which is the mission of the school. Newburgh Theological Seminary is not a diploma mill (they require proper transcripts for admission and completed work for graduation). True the purpose of NTS does not seem to fit Albert Trask's career choice, but that is his fault not the school's. To imply Newburgh Theological Seminary is a "bogus school" is simple untrue.

Up 4 Down 1

Melvin Torres on Jan 19, 2016 at 11:36 pm

I am an active duty military with almost 19 years in the military. The government has been kind enough to pay for an Associate, and two masters degrees. Being a family man and always on the road leaving the family behind for many months at a time, you don't have time for much. I wanted to learn more about the Bible and Newburgh Theological Seminary was very flexible. If you don't like it, then do something about it! Do not just complain. Remember, it's a free country and if you think reading books and doing a dissertation is easy, you got another thing coming! In the end, you really learn with the amount of time you put in. God bless institutions like NTS!

Up 4 Down 2

DR Dennis Carroll on Dec 18, 2014 at 1:02 pm

I just received my Diploma PHD - It took study, It was not easy. Newburgh seminary is a very good seminary. What is accredition? It is a government of people who oversee the educational values.They are people who are not perfect. Who is to say transworld accredition is a Diploma Mill regional CHEA accredition.

Up 96 Down 88

yukon ann on Nov 12, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Shows outsiders influence on how to scam a city

Up 128 Down 88

Mark Smith on Nov 10, 2014 at 2:52 pm

I paid $250, listened to some old music by Doctor John, drank 6 Doctor Peppers and wrote a 20 page report on "The Influence of Popular Music in Modern Religious Experiences.

Just graduated with honours so you can refer to me as Dr. Smith now. I would write more but am preparing for a high level interview with the Government of Yukon.

Up 114 Down 89

Captain Obvious on Nov 10, 2014 at 9:27 am

Hey... It's just as valid as any other Doctorate in Theological studies.

The question is why someone ends up as the ADM of public schools with it. It's irrelevant and even opposite of a fundamental education. That's what I found to be an issue.

Up 127 Down 89

angelina on Nov 8, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Ummm, most of the people in the government do not have the educational background to support their work. These people make suggestions to improve societies lifestyle's, yet they do not know what analytic analysis is. This just brings to light the issues and I think everyone in the government or those who make decisions dealing with people's lives should have sufficient credentials and credible educational background. In the Yukon it doesn't matter what you know, but who you know!

Up 120 Down 99

David Morris on Nov 8, 2014 at 5:20 pm

It is good to know that Val Royle (a very devoted Catholic) is doing the Lords work by standing by a fellow brother.

Up 146 Down 91

Northern Knight on Nov 8, 2014 at 6:13 am

50 hours of study and you get a PHD?
Only in the Yukon would the government be stupid enough to keep this clown 'doctor' around after they had learned the truth.
Using that criteria every kid graduating high school would have earned a PHD.


Up 125 Down 90

OMG on Nov 7, 2014 at 5:54 pm

This just keeps getting better.

Up 126 Down 91

daveG on Nov 7, 2014 at 5:28 pm

This is the story that has to stick in the minds of people up here in Yukon , if only for the sake of our children's future. More investigative work like this will help secure the change that's needed. The first story got 60-ish comments on this board - that's how much people care . Keep the interest levels up . ( Wilf Carter - Ok , we all know you hate the Govt , but try and keep it on topic and focus on the Education Dept's many failings please ).

And , 'if it pleases God, then it doesn't matter who is displeased'?? That quote takes some stomaching all right. That just beggars belief .

Up 127 Down 87

davedownunder on Nov 7, 2014 at 5:26 pm

According to some of my friends, my first degree was earned in communications while I was driving taxi in Whitehorse for five years in the early eighties... the science, engineering, business administration and management degrees that came after that were earned on the back of my earlier experience. The fluff that passes for qualifications in Whitehorse right now just goes to show how far you are away from responsible governance.

Up 127 Down 90

June Jackson on Nov 7, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Is anyone surprised? This IS the Yukon after all.

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