Peter G. Raeth



As a computer engineer with 20 years experience, I am offering the following personal observations and opinions on alternatives in higher education. My hope is to help people avoid wasting their time getting degrees or certificates from places that have no credibility in the professional world. Such places do a career more harm than good. Unfortunately, the naive sometimes fall into their trap. Although I am not a trained educator, I am concerned with the quality of education being received by the upcoming generation and those who wish to transition into technical fields. That is why I decided to make these personal thoughts and opinions available to you. These personal opinions are based simply on my own experiences and observations and do not necessarily reflect anyone elseís position.

When choosing a college, one must be aware that clear educational standards exist. This is true for graduate students, undergraduates, and associate degree candidates. The existing standards provide an excellent base from which to begin forming a judgement on a particular study program. One needs to be very careful when selecting the provider. Key to determining a baseline of quality and value is the source of accreditation. The Association of Colleges and Schools (ACS) is the accreditation source most recognized and respected. This is a key factor for the student to look for, regardless of a providerís attempts at pomp or their efforts to minimize the importance of accreditation by ACS. Many no-credibility degree mills have banded together to form "associations" and "societies" so that they can claim accreditation. Stay away from any institution that does not carry ACS accreditation. This accreditation is not just an old standard. It is fully modern, covering traditional monastic providers to cutting-edge distance learning. Providers with ACS accreditation, especially in technical areas at upper degree levels, are relatively rare in the distance learning arena.

Where having a given degree really matters, obtaining that degree from a provider not accredited by ACS does more harm than good to a personís career, credibility with management and peers, and personal image. Going beyond this are employers who do not supply tuition reimbursement to anyone not engaged in studies accredited by ACS. Another aspect is that employers who have serious challenges to offer do check on an applicantís academic credentials, to include accreditation and transcripts. Anyone who wants such challenges should be suspicious of employers who do not feel it necessary to check, especially when hiring people with newly awarded degrees and little work history with that degree. If the employer does not ask you to sign a transcript retrieval permission form, they are not checking closely enough about the people they hire. In that case, one needs to question how serious they are about needing qualified people with specific degrees. This holds true for those who want an employee relationship and for those who are in consultant roles. The serious companies care about where the degree comes from. They are highly unlikely to just accept a resume at face value and assume that you actually have the degree or that the degree comes from a credible institution. Companies get work by responding to requests for proposal or other means of marketing for sales and contracts. Many contracts and requests for proposal state that the principle technical team membersí most recent degree must come from a school accredited by ACS.

Yes, there is always the outlier, the one or a few countering examples. I claim that these do not change the reality I have experienced. Because of the current nationwide shortfall in personnel, lesser qualified people are finding themselves in more advanced jobs. However, my experience has been that economic booms do not last for the long run of a career. Eventually, the economy will begin to slow down and the employment plate will begin to shrink. Once that starts to happen, people will begin to slip off the edge as layoffs take place. Iíve seen it before, a companyís business begins to ebb and they counter by shrinking the workforce. Guess who they let go first? My experience has been that they let go of the 90-day wonders and the ones with degrees that lack professional credibility. One can argue that it is the contribution to the bottom line that counts. However, the ones without a solid educational background are unlikely to have the skills to make such a recognizable contribution that it makes up for a lack of respected credentials. Donít let yourself get caught in this trap.

Beware too of arguments from the lesser qualified that say, "... its just a piece of paper..." or "... I know just as much as someone with the paper ...". Getting identified with this crowd will not help you. These arguments will not keep you employed nor will they help advance your career. Every once in awhile you will find an outlier. But generally these people asymptote early and then wonder what happened. Even if they do well in one company, they may have a hard time going somewhere else. Their employment and career options are limited. This is especially an issue if they get laid off.

A respected university offering ACS-accredited distance learning in a variety of computer and management fields, with Masters and PhD degrees, is NOVA Southeastern. They have been offering their programs since 1980 and can be found at http://www.scis.nova.edu/. A good source for Masters degrees is the National Technical University (http://www.ntu.edu/ntunew.html). NTU is a consortium of several established institutions and is just getting started. They award master's degrees in 15 key engineering, technical, and management disciplines. Many other ACS-accredited institutions are individually transitioning into the distance learning arena. General information about the various ACS regions can be found at http://www.ncacihe.org/links.html. If an institution claims accreditation, check the listings.

Having spent time as a recruiter, it is my experience that companies always find it extremely difficult to find and keep good people. Regardless of economic conditions, such people are always in demand. They pick and choose where they want to work. If someone wants to enter this upper atmosphere, they have to start with a solid preparation. A certificate or degree from an institution accredited by the Association of Colleges and Schools is the first step.