Authority by Degrees

Authority by Degrees

This morning I spoke with the niece of a friend about her next steps in pursuing her education. She’s interested in getting a degree in nutrition, but wants something more than the conventional nutritional education offered in most institutes of higher learning. I gave her my usual warning about watching out for the con artist correspondence schools selling fake degrees. Coincidentally (or was it?), shortly after I got off the phone, I got a SPAM on this blog from a ‘school’ offering fake degrees for a fee.

This prompted me to drop in on one of the original diploma mills that sells degrees on the internet. This particular outfit with the clay feet that weigh a ton has made so much money selling their bogus degrees in the natural health arena over the last few years that they’ve been able to invest a tremendous amount of their ill gotten gain into full color ads in major magazines and build a gorgeous website to boot.

The first page is a form. It asks about the prior education of the applicant. Out of curiosity, I ticked the box that said “Some high school.” Then it asked if the applicant is over 23 years of age. I said yes. Then it asked when the applicant is interested in getting started. I ticked the box next to ‘In the next 2-4 months.’ And blam! I got a message telling me I was the ideal candidate for their brand of education. HA!

They’ve gotten much fancier. Years ago, I did the same routine of filling out the form, using the name of my pet dog (who also was the ideal candidate.) In those days, there was no pretense about what they were doing. The deal was one degree (a ‘doctor of naturopathy’ degree!) for 4000 bucks, but all 4 of the degrees they sold(including a PhD) for 6000 bucks, a real savings! That was then, this is now. Now, they’ve learned to masquerade, with all the trappings and trimmings necessary to mislead the simple soul and the sophisticated searcher. AAAAAAAARGGGH!

What’s going on? The perceived authority of a title has become so desirable in business and society that con artists have found the perfect target market for their deceptive advertising. And the sad result: Degrees are losing their connection to the experience they are supposed to represent. In the last two decades, diploma mills have sprung up like spring flowers across the land, and using 4 color glossy magazine ads to market coveted titles in exchange for little work and much money has become commonplace. The diploma mills have banded together (misery loves company) and created bogus ‘accrediting’ bodies with fancy names to cover their fake pedigrees. Unrecognized by the Department of Education, and not even trying for it, they instead choose to recognize themselves. Wow.

In unlicensed states, fake holistic doctor degrees are sold to people wanting to play doctor without actually doing the work to become one for only a few thousand dollars. Anyone can play! Spammers, likewise, send millions of invitations to unsuspecting and ignorant people looking for a shortcut to the authority they themselves recognize as inherent in an earned title. But why do people fall for these valueless degrees, and send their hard earned money to con artists and societal bottom feeders? Maybe they aren’t thinking clearly. Maybe they desire authority but lack the character to legitimately pursue it. All I know is that there are a lot of people claiming to be what they are not these days, and some of them make it through to tv specials on public television and books carried in book stores in which they promote the lie that they ‘attended’ a school, when in fact they sent in money and within a few weeks had a shiny new diploma.

Pardon my rant, but this is one of my pet peeves. This kind of deception is bad business for society, as it damages public confidence and undermines education. In those states where diploma mills are tolerated and fake degrees go without challenge, legislators have the authority and responsibility to protect their constituents. I hope one day they will. Until then, one can only hope that the posers with phony degrees drop out to avoid scrutiny, or are found out and their façade crumbles.

Ironically, you don’t need a degree to have authority. Not if you have authentic authority. But don’t tell the diploma mills. They have no system by which to study the issue and arrive at a reasoned result.

If you want to get a degree, get it from a recognized institute of higher learning, and you will have grown your mind, skills and abilities along the way. While talking to my friend’s niece, I came upon a report that Bastyr University, which is in her neck of the woods and offers an ND (Naturopathic Doctor) degree, is listed as one of 168 top medical schools in the country, according to a study done at Princeton University.