Tuesday, September 11, 2012

No, It's Not a College Degree

Diploma mills have been around now for a while.  They bill themselves as "alternate" ways to "earn" a college degree without having to go through all the "trouble" that regular colleges put you through to get that degree.  Sure, you get a piece of paper that says you have a degree, but what you have is a piece of paper, not the education that such a degree normally signifies.

Yes, there are some employers for whom that piece of paper will be sufficient for hiring purposes, and a whole lot more for whom that piece of paper will remain just that--a piece of paper with ink on it, not a testimonial to an education received.

Last week someone told me about the latest diploma mill out there.  Apparently a fairly well known and respected rabbi and his wife have started a program that will give you that sought after college degree.  What does it take to get this "degree"?  You need to take one course--all the other so called credits are transfers from seminary/yeshiva and possibly life experience.  Yup, one course and you have a college degree---no, no, no you will not have a college degree!

More than time to come up with some other name for whatever that piece of paper is supposed to represent, because in no way, shape or form does it represent a college degree.  And no, I truly don't like it when people who have purchased that piece of paper believe themselves to be equal to those who went the traditional route and worked and earned that degree.  No, their "degree" is not equal to mine and to yours.

So, any suggestions for what we might rename that piece of paper?  I was toying around with calling it a PBC--payment-based credential.  What might you call it?


Anonymous said...

Just what we need, another quack degree. I'd call it a BS (you know what that stands for) but there is already a legitimate BS degree. Maybe a BSL--b___s___light. Just another way the gimme generation gets things handed to them without having to work for them.

Anonymous said...

What does this "respected" rabbi charge for this SCD (so called degree)?

JS said...

You're assuming, of course, that the real value of a college degree is the education one has received. That may or may not be true. I'd posit that there's a substantial number of kids earning "traditional" college degrees that are no better educated than they were when they graduated high school. However, they have a more convincing piece of paper to show off.

And, for many, that piece of paper is all they come away with. The value being what that piece of paper supposedly signifies. That piece of paper is supposed to testify to your credentials and qualifications. In a perhaps extreme example, one wouldn't be shocked to hear that someone with a degree from Harvard is automatically offered a job with only a perfunctory interview. It's well known at the graduate level that admittance alone to certain high-ranked law schools automatically guarantees one a job at a prestigious law firm.

The signalling of a degree works to a certain degree due to the presumption that "If they're good enough for [Harvard], they're good enough for me." Of course the person may be lazy, unmotivated, paid their way in, etc.

I think some degrees are still useful for signalling, but the threshold keeps going up. The diploma mills don't help, but neither does the push for everyone to go to college. Signalling only works, for the most part, if there are barriers to entry (need high SAT scores, AP exams, SAT II exams, excellent application essay, right background, wealthy, etc.). If it's easy for everyone to go to college (or get a degree) then a degree alone loses its signalling power. Thus, only "elite" degrees continue to have value.

So, is this "degree" worthless? Well, it may not be worthless as a signalling tool. For example, maybe in certain communities or sub-communities this degree signals you're frum or that you're in good with such-and-such rabbi. That could be very worthwhile. Maybe certain frum employers could care less where you got a degree as long as you have a degree (and maybe a frum degree is better as it signals you weren't sullied by a secular university). But, yes, for education itself it's worthless (but again, you'd need a different approach to explaining why the education is what really matters).

Also, is it really the worst option? Assume it's worthless. There are lots of "real" college degrees that are worthless as well. Degrees from poorly ranked schools are likely nearly worthless in this economy (and as everyone is pushed to go to college). Certainly degrees in useless majors are nearly worthless. So, is it better to pay tens of thousands for a worthless degree from a "real" college and spend 4 years doing so or to pay a few hundred and have an instant worthless degree?

I think it's not so simple. But, I understand why an educator would be so frustrated by this.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of scenarios where this could pay off. If this works as a Frum credential and gets the person a job inside a Frum company, that it's not worthless.

Degrees have different value at different points in your career. An elite degree is of value your entire life, but a regional degree may have zero power outside the community in the beginning, but 10 years out, may satisfy the "has a degree" requirement.

The difference between a mediocre and average degree makes more of a difference at 22 than 32, but at 32, the difference between ANY degree and NO degree is pretty substantial.

It's like the 5 year Masters programs in engineering... It's not as academically pure as a 2 year MS from a different school, and the bump in salary for BS+0 experience to MS+0 experience is very little... In fact, BS+1y experience may be better than MS+0in 8-10 years, the difference between BS+10 years experience and MS+9 years is going to tilt towards the MS.

But if you are moving up the white collar non professional tracks, this sort of a degree may be worth something, assuming it ages nicely and this Rabbi isn't convicted of a crime tainting it.

If a retail place is checking resumes of someone looking for store manager, do you really think that the fact that 10 years prior, the person went to CUNY vs. Rabbi Degree Mill is going to make a HUGE difference? But not having ANYTHING to put for education MIGHT make a huge difference.

abba's rantings said...

the truth is that even among traditional degrees there is a very wide degree of quality and value. this program just adds one more rung at the bottom. there is nothing necessarily or inherently wrong with this program or others at the bottom. not everyone is destined for harvard. or a crappy public college. or a community college. or a technical school. or beauty school. nothing wrong with providing options for all needs. of course a degree from this new program isn't the same as my degree, but my degree isn't the same as a harvard degree either. (granted that as far the spectrum is concerned my degree is probably closer to a harvard degree than to this new program.)

the problem is when a degree from the lower wrung passes itself off as equivalent to one from a higher wrung and when the institution from the lower wrung says it can get you to the same level as those from the higher rungs.

Ruth said...

Where I see all this going is that the traditional terms "college" and "university" are going to need to be changed/expanded/replaced. With the insistence in the US that everyone should be going to college, we have basically brought about these mills and weirdo programs posing as colleges in the traditional meaning of that title.

We're going to need to put into place legal names for the places that give you some type of post high school degree. And there will need to be some kind of law that if you want to be called a college you must have XYZ qualifications, a University XYZ qualifications, and the same for any of the new names that will come into being for places like diploma mills.

As to this new program, I guess those attending it can say they are students at a Shrinkatorium. And instead of getting a BA, students at a Shrinkatorim earn BAD degrees--Bachelor of Arts Deficiency degree.

Sometimes wish that I could be around in 150 years to see how this finally all plays out.

AztecQueen2000 said...

But even the crappy public colleges have something Rabbi Diploma Mill cannot offer--regional accreditation. IOW, should the person with a BDM (Bachelors from Diploma Mill) decides that xie wants to attend law school, or medical school, or get an MSW, that BDM will be worthless for admission. However, a regionally accredited degree from CUNY, or a California State University (second-tier state schools in California) will not bar admission.

Mark said...

In places like Israel, there are many jobs (including all public sector and quasi-public sector jobs) in which your salary is directly related to the degree(s) you've obtained. If this degree is recognized, and it is difficult for Israels hiring managers to check up on every single purported university and college in the US, then you will have a higher salary than a person doing the exact same job, with the exact same tenure, etc.

So, it is entirely possible that this fake degree is worth something. In fact, people wouldn't bother doing it if it wasn't worth anything!

Abba said...


" it is difficult for Israels hiring managers to check up on every single purported university and college in the US"

i could be wrong, but i think israeli employers are actually very sensitive to this problem particularly in the wake of the russian aliyah, when many claimed bogus degrees. btw, iirc a few years ago even YU grads had a problem getting their degrees recognized by the israeli (something to do with the year in israel credits being contested)

JS said...

As always, caveat emptor.

But, there are plenty of real colleges offering essentially worthless degrees for which you have to invest 4 years and tens of thousands of dollars.

Leahle said...

JS--If it's a real college then I'm assuming the degree is real so I'm guessing you are referring to a worthless major. Just curious what you consider a worthless major.

Abba said...


for starters, liberal arts, social sciences and psychology are generally (but of course not always) worthless degrees.

Mark said...

Abba - iirc a few years ago even YU grads had a problem getting their degrees recognized by the israeli (something to do with the year in israel credits being contested)

That was many years ago (during the early/mid 90's) and it was more a "political" thing than a credential thing. There were groups of people (IIRC, the groups I heard about were social workers of some sort) that were resentful that "all" the olim were coming with degrees, and many with advanced degrees, and "taking away" all the good jobs at higher salaries than they were getting. So, despite YU being fully accredited and accepted in Israel, some agitated, and brought up the yeshiva credits, to cause some doubt and garner some headlines. In the end, nothing changed and all YU graduates retained the benefits provided by their credentials.

And they are very sensitive to this issue ... because it translates directly into money.

JS said...


I'm referring to the worth of the degree as measured by the ability to acquire gainful employment.

Of course, gainful employment is a tricky thing to pin down. I'd say in this context I'm referring to a job that requires a college degree and pays pay than a job one could acquire without any special education or training (e.g., working checkout counter, not a plumber).

So, a worthless degree can be from a diploma mill because no one recognizes the credential. For example, even an "IT degree" from a diploma mill could be worthless since no employer wants an IT Professional from such a place.

It can also be from a poorly ranked school because the market is flooded with people with the same degree from better ranked schools. This example is similar to the one above. In a bad economy where employers have all the power, if employers have a choice between a Tuoro graduate with a degree in computer science and an MIT graduate with the same degree, the Tuoro graduate may find the degree worthless.

It can be from a well-ranked school, but 1) in a field that isn't hiring or 2) doesn't care for the degree or 3) the degree doesn't offer sufficient credentials. For example, print newspapers are not doing well, so a journalism degree even from a good school may be worthless since the field isn't hiring. Or, maybe newspapers care more about raw writing talent and the ability to investigate and find a scoop - in such a case, a journalism degree doesn't credential you since employers don't care about this. Finally, a psychology major may be worthless if the only way to psychology-related employment is a PhD.

So, I don't necessarily think you can say "this degree with worthless" in all cases. It's a bit more subtle than that and requires an understanding of what career is sought and what credentials they seek.

My point is simply even a VERY expensive degree from Harvard can be as worthless as this rabbi's diploma mill degree.

Abba said...


it was much more recent (or it happened a second time), and it dragged on for a few years. e.g.,
just to clarify this is a government issue and not a private sector one.


let me clarify. for many, many people the degrees i mentioned are completely useless. for others (probably the minority) the degrees may not be completely useless, yet they are still worthless because they cost so much and the return on investment may not be worth it.

Mark said...

Abba, again! And sure enough it's social workers again. And since almost all social workers are government employees (or contractors to government), it becomes a government issue. I've known quite a few social workers in Israel, and almost as a rule, they are a most jealous group and a group that spends an inordinate amount of time "grubbing" every little "point" that will increase their salary. Even to the extent of taking down their coworkers that they are resentful of for having more advanced degrees. And I've seen teachers behave similarly (for a few years, my wife worked for a large city in Israel in the department that funded education and she knows all about it).

It's kind of understandable because those two professions are so poorly paid (possibly even the lowest paid degree-ed professions in Israel) that they probably feel they have to undercut one another to gain an extra few tens of NIS each month.

In the end, it's all politics, one interest group fighting against another. Repeatedly.

Shua said...

Don't know why the comments seem so negative about social work as a degree. Maybe in Israel social workers all work for the government and get very low salaries but not here in the US.

My wife has worked for many years as a social worker for a major hospital in NYC. Not making a million dollars but hardly a low salary and with really good benefits. Her medical insurance is so much better then what my big company offers that we get it through her. She knows other social workers employed by nursing and rehab facilities and senior centers and they also aren't on the lowest rung for salary. Sure Board of Ed and some city programs also hire the social workers, but they don't all work for the government and they aren't working for tiny salaries. Plus city benefits are very good.

If you have to diss a major, why not begin with philosophy as a major--just what job anywhere requires this to work?

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