Friday, July 27, 2007

A Matter of Degrees

“I don’t make the rules, I just learn what the rules are and learn to play by those rules.”

This is a statement I often make when talking to students about learning the rules of culture. It is an axiom of many things in life, whether it’s biblical principles, rules of government or business. Bob Beford makes a similar comment in his book, Half Time.

"There is no such thing as a life without authority. You can choose the game, but you can't choose the rules...And whether you like it or not, the rules govern your behavior. Follow the rules, and your chances of winning are greater. Break the rules enough times and you won't even get a chance to finish the game."

In academic circles there is a hierarchy that sets the rules of what is a legitimate education degree. The highest degree is a PhD. I have a DMiss (Doctor of Missiology), which is a teaching degree, not as prestigious as the PhD, but higher than a DMin (Doctor of Ministry), which is not a teaching degree. Following the doctoral degrees, of course, are the Master level degrees which is higher than a Bachelor’s degree, which is more prestigious than a high school degree.

In addition to the hierarchy of degrees the education industry has established a system that evaluates how those degrees are attained. They have determined that educational institutions, colleges and universities are the legitimate brokers in granting degrees and those institutions of higher learning are regulated by a standard for education excellence. Not only must the school have a credible library, professors with higher degrees and required credit hours, they must be, for the most part, be resident studies. If the institution does not meet these “rules” the degrees are deemed unaccredited.

On the bottom of the academic food chain are distant learning or extension programs. Though some extension programs are rigorous and the work done by the students are often extensive, it doesn’t matter, the distance learning degree is of limited use in academic circles.

So why do people opt for non-accredited degrees? Three words: logistics, time and money. Logistically many people, especially people who already have a career and must work to make ends meet, just can’t pick up and move to another city to attend a university. Even if there is a college in the same city they find it difficult, if not impossible, to work around a work/class schedule. A distance learning degree is also much cheaper than enrolling in a resident program. For many people, who want to continue to expand their knowledge and gain recognition for the work they have put into their study, a non-credited degree is enough.

What can a person do with an unaccredited degree? They can use their credentials to teach in other unaccredited institutions around the world. It is doubtful that a unaccredited school will ask a teacher where they received their education, but you can bet anytime you meet someone with a PhD from a recognized university they will inquire where you received your degree.

When people ask my opinion about their education future I try to steer them to a recognized degree program. Educationally I believe a person gains much more through the interaction of a classroom and lectures from experts in their field. But I realize that non-accredited degrees have its place in this world of distance learning. As with everything else, there are some distance learning studies that are quality programs and there are others that are not much more than “paper mills” (send $50 and get a doctor’s degree). No matter where one receives their degrees through an extension program, it will never be considered, in the academic world, as legitimate. I don’t make the rules, I just know the rules and help others know those rules as well.