Oct 22, 2008
76 people graduate from unaccredited university known as a degree supplier
By Sandra Davie and Cassandra Chew
Students of the unaccredited West Coast University, garbed in full academic regalia, celebrating after their graduation ceremony at Old Parliament house on Monday, which even came with an inspiring speech from the university's honorary president.
THE ceremony in the Old Parliament House had all the pomp and circumstance associated with any graduation.
The professors and graduands were in full academic regalia. Speeches flowed in English and Mandarin. And afterwards, a gala dinner at a hotel.
Cash for paper in some cases
THE term 'degree mill' is used widely to refer to institutions that offer degrees to students who do not have to do much work to graduate.Some operate with no more than a mailing address to which people send money in exchange for a piece of paper that looks like a degree. Others require some nominal work to be done but do not require college-level coursework.
... moreAt the ceremony, the university's honorary president, a Professor Bernard Cadet, delivered an inspiring speech, urging graduands to transform the world.
'Believe nothing is impossible. West Coast University (WCU) will be proud of you in the future,' he told the 76 graduands from Singapore, Indonesia and China, before handing them their doctorates, master's and bachelor's degrees.
But this was a ceremony for an unaccredited university based in Panama, not Los Angeles, as its school in Singapore had claimed.
The Asia-Australia School of Management (AASM), a Case-certified school in Middle Road, offers West Coast University programmes here with a related company, Huanyu Training Expert.
At least two American states have outlawed degrees from WCU, describing it as a 'degree supplier' that offers 'fraudulent or substandard degrees'.
The Texas State Higher Education Coordinating Board warns on its website that WCU 'is used by multiple unaccredited entities. The extent to which they are related is unknown, but more than one operator is suspected.'
In some parts of the United States, it is a criminal offence to use degrees from unaccredited institutions.
'Dr' John Huang, one of the owners of AASM and Huanyu, insisted that the university is based in Los Angeles and faxed The Straits Times documents showing West Coast University International registered as a business in California.
But he confirmed that it was not the California-based West Coast University reputed for nursing and health science-related degrees. He admitted that WCU was unaccredited, but said his students had been given the facts.
His doctorate is from Ashwood University, the same degree mill that granted this reporter's pet dog a doctorate for US$599 (S$886) just two months ago.
The guest of honour at Monday's ceremony was MP for Joo Chiat Chan Soo Sen, who delivered a speech in Mandarin and English.
Contacted afterwards, he said he had been invited by a grassroots leader and accepted as he wanted to encourage the habit of life-long learning.
Told that WCU was unaccredited, he said he had not been given any information about it. 'If my presence there had given the university credibility, that was not my intention,' he said.
Several graduates interviewed after Monday's ceremony believed the university was based in Los Angeles and that it was a proper institution.
They had paid between $13,000 and $19,000 in fees to take up bachelor's, master's and doctorate courses lasting one year to 15 months.
Those who took up the doctorate programme said they attended classes two days a month, from 9am to 5pm.
Several said they did not know a university can be registered and yet have no academic accreditation, where it is subject to quality checks by an independent body. It also means employers may not recognise the degrees.
An electronics factory quality controller who paid $13,000 in fees for her bachelor's degree said: 'I was hoping to get a better job in logistics with this degree, but now it may not be possible.'
Ms Ho Fee Men, director of a Chinese medical hall, said she had heard rumours that the university was unaccredited, but continued with her PhD programme anyway. To get her doctorate, she paid $19,000 in fees, attended classes twice a month over 15 months and wrote a 50,000-word thesis.
Two businessmen said they knew their doctorates were worthless but took up the programme to learn about business management.
Mr Chang Chia Sheng, 55, managing director of X.L. Handle, which makes industrial fasteners, said he gained from discussions with other businessmen.
At least 218 people here have been found with degrees from dubious universities such as Preston, Wisconsin International and Kennedy-Western.
Business owners make up one of three groups here who have degrees from unaccredited institutions and degree mills. For many of them, an honorary PhD has become a must-have symbol of success.
Another group comprises consultants and private school lecturers who may have a first degree and some expertise in a particular area, but seek a master's degree or doctorate to bolster their credentials.
And lastly, there are those who pay for undergraduate degrees and transcripts - usually non-graduates who want qualifications to gain jobs or promotions.