Can a dog still earn an MBA?June 28, 2011: 11:29 AM ET
Rochville University was made famous for granting an online MBA to a dog named Chester two years ago. Has the institution cleaned up its act?
By John Hendel, contributor
(poetsandquants.com) -- If Chester the dog could get an MBA, why couldn't I?
I recently explored obtaining a B-school degree from Rochville University, the online program that infamously granted a business degree to a pug dog two years ago. And I found that, in as little as a week, I could join Chester and others who have earned diplomas from questionable institutions.
"We translate your work experiences into your credit hours," a Rochville official told me over the phone. The degree would arrive "within a matter of 7-10 days."
My personal Rochville quest captures the wild-west nature of the world of online MBAs. The number of such virtual programs has expanded into the hundreds over the past decade or so, but many are diploma mills that pose challenges for would-be MBA students and make it difficult for legitimate online programs to establish credibility.
Rochville, which has a mailing address in Texas and operations in Dubai, continues to woo students despite receiving a damning Better Business Bureau report and the sensational story of Chester the dog.
Vicky Phillips, Chester's owner and the CEO of consumer awareness organization GetEducated.com, submitted Chester's application along with $499 to Rochville University and received the pup's online degree -- complete with a 3.2 GPA -- straight from Dubai a week later.
Things haven't changed much at Rochville. Despite widespread coverage of the doggy diploma incident, the folks behind Rochville are still willing to peddle empty degrees.
Rochville appears legitimate at first glance. The school's website says it caters to the "education needs of 38,000 working adults and individuals." It claims to have 218 faculty members and an administrative staff of 65.
But look closer. The school is accredited by an organization called the Board of Online Universities Accreditation (BOUA). It turns out that the BOUA is not recognized as an accrediting agency by the U.S. Department of Education. And a disclaimer on AffordableDegrees.com, Rochville's affiliate site, states that Rochville "has not applied for any accreditation recognized by the Department of Education of any country nor would it qualify for such accreditation due to its non-traditional and non-resident international status."
Although Rochville University's website makes no reference to selling degrees, AffordableDegrees.com says that it can help Rochville "graduates" persuade employers about the legitimacy of the degree.
AffordableDegrees also promises a Rochville diploma "in just 14 days" -- hardly the two to four years Rochville's site claims it takes to earn a degree -- and lists a host of prices for different Rochville degrees.
A high school diploma runs as cheap as $399. But if you want to feel extra "educated," you can purchase a special package including a bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees for $2,741 (which comes with 30 documents, including a diploma, two original transcripts, an award of excellence, and so on). These prices are drastically lower than those listed on the Rochville site, where degrees are priced at a more realistic $12,000 to $16,000.
Rochville seemed like a myth until I received a call from one of its representatives. I had submitted an initial contact form on Rochville's website, and a few days later, a man who identified himself as Jones called to ask about the application and explain Rochville's philosophy to me.
"What degree would you like?" Jones asked.
"A master's degree might be nice," I said.
And when did you earn your bachelor's?
Three years ago.
How long have you worked and doing what?
Three years. Communications and temp work.
You'd be a great candidate -- we'd love to help you out.
Rochville, the man said, launched its online operation in 1992 and has existed in some form since 1980. He told me the university's offices were in Humble, Texas, with 40 to 50 administrative staff (Jones included) and that Rochville actually does offer online classes to those who want them.
Could I register for those?
No, there were no sessions on the horizon.
Jones acknowledged Rochville's connection to AffordableDegrees.com -- it's the more "in-depth" face of Rochville, he explained.
A follow-up call to Rochville yielded the price for a master's degree: $1,025, with a special discount offered that day, making the cost only $820. Not too shabby.
The Better Business Bureau of Texas has given AffordableDegrees.com an F rating, the lowest rating on its scale. The bureau cites 152 customer complaints against the site related to schools such as "Belford University" and "Belford High School," all based out of the same Humble, Texas address, according to a report from the organization.
Still, Rochville has its defenders -- at least on the web. One website, RochvilleUniversityScam.com, is full of poorly written, unconfirmed alumni testimonials defending the school against charges of fraud. "There are only few reliable education institutes amongst which comes the name of Rochville University," the homepage testimonial declares.
I followed up with Rochville by phone. A Mr. Nelson answered. Nelson denied that Rochville was a "diploma mill."
"[The charge] doesn't make any sense," Nelson explained. "A diploma mill is -- you want to get a degree from Stanford or Oxford. A diploma mill prints up the degree for you, like one from Yale, and it's not verifiable. You can't use it in the workplace."
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation would beg to differ. The council defines a diploma mill as a company that sells degrees, requires very little time for them, and offers them "based solely on experience or resume review."
Defending Rochville, Nelson referred to the "conventional" degree option offered to candidates without work experience, in which students can take classes, exams, and so on, and pay the $12,000 to $16,000 for the two-year program. But in multiple conversations with Rochville, class never seemed to be in session and representatives could not tell me how to receive information about the classes or how many people signed up for them.
Can we trust a Rochville rep? Phillips is wary.
"I've had to deal with a lot of blowback, including personal threats," Phillips says. But she says that she doesn't regret ripping into Rochville. "I'm sorry, but they gave a degree to a dog."
No offense, Chester, but I decided against a Rochville MBA myself.
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