News that one of North Florida’s most prominent financial planners had advertised a Ph.D. from an institution widely suspected of being a “diploma mill” has brought the issue of “purchased diplomas” to the forefront in Jacksonville. Jeffrey Camarda, the individual named by the Jacksonville Business Journal as being the holder of a suspect degree, has disputed charges that he did anything less than honest in obtaining his Ph.D. The story, however, is one that points to a growing problem in the day of online education.
“Diploma mills” are for-profit schemes that offer counterfeit diplomas and degrees from legitimate high schools, colleges, and universities, or unaccredited institutions that exist simply to award degrees. According to a recent article in the Puget Sound Business Journal, the public has been put at risk by agencies that have hired and/or promoted individuals who have represented their credentials dishonestly. For example, the paper pointed to a woman who lost her daughter at the hands of a physician with a phony degree.
Employers are beginning to wake up and take notice. Many, in fact, are devoting more time to verifying educational credentials listed on resumes. “Honesty is one of the things that employers are concentrating more on,” said Derek Ito, past president of the Hawaii chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management. “We read about what’s happening nationally with all these big companies and these white-collar crimes — people are just getting a little more lax as far as their morals go.”
The problem, incidentally, seems to exist within Jacksonville’s government as well. A cursory review of Division Chiefs, Department Directors and Deputy Directors within City Government turned up at least two instances where appointees appear to have gotten a job with degrees that are questionable.
One chief within the City’s Fire & Rescue Department lists an advanced degree from an “institution” that has no actual campus in the United States. In actuality, the “institution” is a corporation registered on the Caribbean Island of Nevis. After charges that diplomas were awarded on the basis of “life experiences” for a fee, the “school” in question was informed in 2006 that they are not recognized by the State of Florida.
A second appointee serving in a senior role with the city also lists a degree from an unaccredited institution. This position, which is within the Environmental & Compliance Department, is one which requires a 4-year degree from an accredited institution. After an investigation by the Tuscaloosa News discovered the practice of awarding diplomas based on “life experiences” for a fee, the “institution” that awarded this individual’s degree was banned from the State of Alabama.
Problems with diploma mills are not unique to government and some governments are stepping up efforts to counter their use. In the State of Washington, laws exist to prosecute those who award the degrees and those who use them. Our City Government could use a focus on the verification of educational experiences listed on resumes of applicants. A more in-depth review might show that the practice of including degrees from unaccredited institutions or invalid degrees is more widespread that thought.