Letters to the Editor

California Coast's legit

Your characterization of California Coast University is inaccurate and misleading.

The school has been operating for the past 30 years with full institutional approval from the state of California, falling under the California Education Code as a degree-granting institution.

All state-approved schools in California fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education, not the Education Department as you have alluded.

The California Education Code requires that degree-granting institutions be inspected and certified to receive approval. This inspection and certification process is qualitative in nature, specifically described in the code, and it follows the lines of accreditation. This is more extensive than a business license although, following approval, the school is also licensed.

Also, you have been misled regarding the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization's list of schools. If you read the preamble to that list, due to Oregon's laws, any degree from a school that is not accredited cannot be used in that state.

Unfortunately, this law lumps legitimate state-approved schools in with degree mills. Oregon explains this. Every school on that list is not a degree mill.

In addition, California Coast is currently a candidate for accreditation by the Distance Education and Training Council, which is recognized by the U.S. Education Department. Please improve your reporting by accurately describing this school in the future and perhaps writing a correction.

Rodney F. Kirkland

Senior program manager

Hamilton, Va.




My California Coast experience

I read with both interest and disdain the article 'The heat is on dubious degrees'.

I have a bachelor's of science in physics and mathematics from Vanderbilt University, a master's of science in nuclear engineering from Penn State University, where I was also an Institute of Nuclear Power Operations fellow, and a master's of science in physics from the University of Texas at Dallas.

I have 21 years of experience in a combination of engineering, information systems and management. I am a member of the American Nuclear Society, American Society of Naval Engineers, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Society of Automotive Engineers.

I also happen to have earned a doctorate in engineering management from California Coast University, the school prominently identified as a diploma mill in your article. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth, and I thought I should share my CCU experience with you.

I travel frequently in association with employment and have found that that makes attainment of a doctoral degree in the traditional sense nearly impossible.

One has no assurance of being able to attend classes on a regular basis or of having access to local research facilities under a professor's control due to the ever-present possibility of lengthy deployment to a client site.

From my experience, one might be deployed on an assignment for six to nine months on short notice, and such assignments are not one-off occurrences.

I was admitted to CCU's doctoral program in June 1996. A master's in engineering plus seven years of full-time, paid, occupational experience in engineering were prerequisites for admission.

CCU's engineering management dean, Peter Shanta, holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctorate from Case Institute. Having met Shanta, I would estimate his academic career spans perhaps 50 years. The associate dean, Herbert Newsome, has a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Southern California, if I recall correctly, and has worked in the private sector for most of his career. I would estimate his career to span 35 years.

The program required completion of eight courses, a research course and a formal dissertation process that included a preliminary proposal, formal proposal, dissertation, comprehensive written exam and public defense at CCU in Santa Ana, Calif.

CCU typically sends students courses in groups of threes. Each course is governed by a learning guide containing six exams, including a midterm and final examination. Exams are combinations of multiple-choice questions or problems and written essays.

When a student has substantial documented experience in a course area, CCU might issue an accelerated learning guide instead of the standard one. An accelerated guide has four exams, including a midterm and final examination, identical in format with the standard guide.

At the graduate level, courses are waived only if one can document completion at another institution within a recent time frame. Note that courses are based on graduate textbooks that would be recognized at most colleges and universities. One can borrow textbooks from CCU, borrow them from another university library or buy them from any number of sources.

Though I had strong academic credentials and 14 years of experience at the time of admission, CCU sent me only two accelerated learning guides out of eight core courses. As noted, an accelerated guide only reduces the number of exams associated with a given course.

I spent about $1,000 on textbooks in addition to CCU's tuition. After approximately 21 months, coursework was complete, and I prepared a preliminary research proposal. I chose what some would consider an obscure topic, 'The Influence of German Type VII, XXI and XXIII Submarine Design and Engineering on the Post-World War II U.S. Navy Submarine Program.'

Newsome had prior Navy experience and headed my doctoral committee. CCU also brought aboard an adjunct faculty member, Douglas Buck, a former Navy engineer, to provide guidance as needed.

Once the research proposal was accepted, I spent considerable time at the Naval Historical Center in Washington researching Navy documents. I also spent several thousand dollars locating and acquiring copies of original German submarine plans for several World War II designs, as well as historic books and papers on both German and U.S. submarines.

Many of the materials I needed were difficult to find, as they were out of print and have never been widely circulated. About 50 percent of the materials were published in Germany and had to be acquired from sources there.

I traveled to Germany at my own expense for on-site inspections of the only surviving Type XXI submarine in Bremerhaven and one of two surviving Type VII submarines in Laboe outside Kiel. I had extensive e-mail correspondence with personnel at Blohm + Voss, a major shipbuilder and former submarine constructor in Hamburg, a ship design organization in Bremen, and with personnel at U.S. facilities and firms.

Once research was complete, which took approximately 16 months, I wrote the formal proposal per CCU's guidelines and submitted it. Newsome reviewed the proposal over a period of about a month and provided extensive feedback.

I restructured the proposal'a major effort'into the final dissertation and, in keeping with CCU guidance, had a former professor of engineering at the University of Colorado proof and critique the document.

Once in final form, I submitted it to my doctoral committee for approval. The committee responded with a signed approval page with instructions to have the dissertation duplicated and bound, and a written comprehensive examination of approximately 15 questions about the dissertation and about select engineering topics in general.

The comprehensive examination required about a month of additional research and writing to complete. I submitted the exam to CCU and, once notified of passing the exam, scheduled the public defense. At that point, I traveled to CCU's facilities in Santa Ana and met with my committee.

After a successful defense, the doctoral degree was awarded in December 1999. Elapsed time to complete the degree was almost double what a doctorate would have required as a follow-on to a master's in engineering, but I was not a full-time student. My second master's, also earned part-time, required a bit less.

I am proud of the finished dissertation and believe that CCU's program is outstanding for those who are self-motivated and have the discipline to complete the work.

On the accreditation front, CCU operates under approval of the State of California Bureau of Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education. This is the California state agency responsible for approval and regulation of all private degree-granting schools in California.

From conversations with CCU relative to certain course requirements while in pursuit of the doctoral degree, programs are regulated in terms of content and monitored for compliance, and the university is quite protective of maintaining its status in good standing.

Further, because of CCU's success, it is presently undergoing national accreditation by the Distance Education and Training Council with the expectation that that will be completed sometime between January and June of 2004.

While it should be evident from the above that the points raised in your article do not apply to CCU's doctoral program in engineering management, national accreditation will certainly remove all doubt as to the quality of all of the institution's programs.

I have no doubt that there are diploma mills in operation where one can, in effect, purchase a degree outright. Those who claim credentials from such institutions are, as noted in your article, deceiving their employers and colleagues.

Those of us who have done the work to earn our credentials have zero tolerance for such behavior. If one's position was obtained based on bogus credentials, then disciplinary action up to and including removal from one's position would be warranted.

The opinions are my own and are not connected with my employer in any way.

David L. Love

Vice President of Operations for Telecom Solutions

LogicaCMG Wireless Networks Inc.

Dallas




Editor's response: California Coast University is not accredited by any organization recognized by the federal Education Department.

The school appears on the Oregon Student Assistance Commission Office of Degree Authorization's list of institutions that are not allowed to operate in the state and whose degrees are not legal for use when applying for state jobs.

Oregon does recognize the degrees of some unaccredited schools, but CCU is not among them. The Oregon office's Web site notes that 'not all unaccredited colleges are necessarily degree mills in the traditional sense of the term. Some unaccredited colleges provide legitimate academic work.'

Indiana, New Jersey and North Dakota are other states that do not recognize degrees from unaccredited institutions.

The Bureau for Private Post Secondary and Vocational Education, within California's Consumer Affairs Department, has licensed CCU to do business in California.

In June, CCU applied to the Distance Education and Training Council for accreditation. Education does recognize the council as a legitimate accrediting organization. Michael Lambert, the council's executive director, said California Coast's application would be evaluated at the organization's June 2004 meeting.

As a condition of its application, CCU agreed to close its doctorate programs because the council's 'scope of authority is limited to the first level of professional degree and below,' Lambert said.

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