How to Succeed in Education Without Really Studying

Superintendent Roger Cuevas and a few dozen of his top administrators received graduate degrees from diploma mills. No wonder Dade's schools are in such great shape.

The superintendent failed to respond to numerous requests for comment for this story.

CSAP was born in the late Sixties, after officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) suggested that UNC provide college and postgraduate courses to HUD employees. The school began operating CSAP out-of-state in 1970 and expanded it to military bases, and not long afterward, at the request of Dade school district employees who had learned about the program at Homestead Air Force Base, opened what was to become its largest postgrad course for civilians.

The program took pride in its relaxed standards. "CSAP ... geared its admission requirements to late starters, who would benefit most by the program," Robert W. Larson writes in Shaping Educational Change, UNC's official institutional history. "Such criteria as previous grade point average or national test scores, consequently, were underplayed."

Jim Stauffler, a retired UNC professor who used to run the Florida program, says that from 1970 until 1976 CSAP conferred master's degrees to between 400 and 500 South Florida school district employees and civil servants. "Each student wrote a professional biography," Stauffler says of the admissions criteria. "My experience as an educator was that the better students were people who had been able to do things in their lifetime, who accomplished big things -- like maybe they had written a novel -- or had developed a skill outside their own field, were active in community services, and things like that."

Though CSAP had its supporters among education-reform leaders who sought ways to expand educational access for minorities, women, and the poor, the program was controversial from the start. Robert Larson writes of a 1975 decision by the Colorado attorney general that UNC could not legally offer courses outside the state because the school was a public institution supported by state tax dollars. In response the university transferred CSAP's ownership to a private, nonprofit organization and continued to offer courses out-of-state. According to Larson, the controversy prompted Maurice Mitchell, chancellor of the University of Denver, to "[rechristen] UNC as 'the University of No Credit,'" and to assert that the out-of-state programs were "making Colorado known as an example of lower standards in higher education." A 1977 article in the education journal Change lambasted CSAP's military programs -- much the same as those run for civilians -- as "diploma mills," and after a lengthy review the following year, Harvard educator Stephen K. Bailey condemned them as "the used-car lots of higher education."

Back in 1975, members of UNC's board of trustees had begun calling for the program's closure. Twice a bare majority voted to keep it open, but finally, in June 1982, after the state's attorney general again opined that a tax-supported institution could not operate outside Colorado, the trustees voted to shut down CSAP.

Still, the local CSAP alumni who were willing to discuss the program for this story are quick to praise it. "The model was extremely conducive to people who were working," recalls Linda Eads, the former MAST principal who received her master's in 1975 and now works in a joint curriculum-improvement project with county schools and Nova University in Davie. "It was very effective for the adult learner -- you had projects, you had readings. From what I can remember, I wrote a number of papers for classes, and we did projects."

Adds 1974 grad William "Bud" Bevan, who designed the school district's computerized job-applicant tracking system and now works as director of personnel records: "I would compare my degree to anyone's."

Of course, the basis of comparison in Dade's public school system would have to include degrees conferred by schools such as Pacific Western University.

Deputy superintendent Henry Fraind, a Dade County Schools employee since 1969, runs the district's media relations department and oversees the central administration buildings downtown. Among those he supervises, he is known for insisting that he be addressed as "Dr. Fraind."

Though a Ph.D. is not required by the state and therefore is not subject to official approval, Fraind, who earned a master's from Barry University in 1962, got a doctorate in 1982 from Pacific Western, a nonaccredited private university in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino. He characterizes his doctoral education in curriculum and instruction as "an external program" that permitted him to earn his degree while continuing to work full-time. Like the UNC master's candidates, he was never required to visit the campus. "You didn't physically have to go through the typical routine of classes," he explains. "You would go to seminars."

Oddly, though, the copy of Fraind's transcript on file at the Bureau of Teacher Certification shows no evidence that he took any Pacific Western classes or seminars. Rather, he was awarded twelve credits for health education courses he completed at Nova University, twenty credits for his job, four credits each for his real estate license and his teaching certificate, five credits for "functional awareness in a career" (which the transcript doesn't define), and twenty credits for his dissertation, entitled Spelling and the Improvement of Spelling. Those 65 credits earned him his doctorate.

In 1989, alarmed that publicity about nonaccredited California institutions might damage the reputations of accredited schools, that state's Postsecondary Education Commission proposed that schools be more stringently regulated with regard to course content and graduation requirements. "We had concerns about institutions like Pacific Western," recalls Bruce Hamlett, who spearheaded the commission's review of such schools. "There was a lot of evidence that people could get credits for a range of things not related to the degree that they were to be the recipient of. There was a considerable amount of credit for life experience."

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