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Foes Call Legislation 'Elitist' : Stricter Scrutiny Sought for Unaccredited Schools

September 06, 1989|WILLIAM TROMBLEY | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — To receive a doctor of philosophy in sensuality degree from More University in Contra Costa County, all an eager student must do is pay about $6,000 in fees and master such courses as Mutual Pleasurable Stimulation of the Nervous System.

At Feather River University in the Northern California community of Paradise, a seeker of knowledge can obtain a bachelor's, master's or doctor's degree in martial arts for fees ranging up to $1,500.

And Pacific Southern University, which has no full-time faculty members, offers a wide array of degrees in business administration, economics and engineering from a seven-room "campus" in West Los Angeles.

Citing these and other examples, the California Postsecondary Education Commission has concluded that California has become what Bruce Hamlett, the commission's director of legislative affairs, called "a haven for institutions that offer easy degrees."

The state also has more than its share of vocational schools that lure students into signing up for federal and state loans and grants, then provide little instruction. One result is that 35% of student loan defaults in the last 10 years have involved vocational school students, according to the California Student Aid Commission.

In an effort to solve these problems, state Sen. Becky Morgan (R-Los Altos Hills) has introduced legislation to remove supervision of vocational schools and privatepostsecondary institutions from the state Department of Education and turn it over to a new state agency.

"The problem is the credibility of California colleges and the black eye the good schools are getting because of the . . . diploma mills," Morgan said.

These schools "have been a stepchild that, frankly, didn't get a lot of attention from the superintendent," she added, referring to state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig.

Morgan's bill would establish a 20-member Council for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education to license and regulate private postsecondary institutions, especially those that are not accredited. It has passed the Senate and is being considered by the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

The Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges accredited 139 California institutions, ranging from little-known California Family Studies Center in Los Angeles to Caltech, Stanford and UCLA. But eight other national associations also provide accreditation for different kinds of institutions.

In addition, there are more than 2,000 vocational schools and degree-granting institutions that are not accredited but are approved, in one form or another, by the state.

'A Fresh Start'

The Morgan bill "gives us a chance for a fresh start in California," said Stephen S. Weiner, executive director of the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges.

But opponents argue that the bill represents an attempt by the "elitist" institutions belonging to the association to drive unaccredited, profit-making schools out of business.

"It's all economics," said Alvin P. Ross, president of Los Angeles' Ryokan College and also president of an association to which 62 unaccredited schools belong. "If our 62 schools are forced out of business, then that's about 15,000 students who might--I emphasize might--go to (Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges) schools."

The bill initially passed the Senate by a 31-1 vote and is expected to clear the Assembly, but supporters fear it may encounter rough weather when it returns to the Senate for a final vote on Assembly amendments.

The unaccredited schools have clout with some legislators, Morgan said, because "they lobby and they give campaign contributions."

Some of the motivation for Morgan's bill came from a report published last spring by the Postsecondary Education Commission, the state's higher education coordinating agency. The report pointed to weaknesses in the present system of assuring the integrity of California degrees.

"There are a lot of good unaccredited colleges and universities," said the commission's Hamlett, "and then there are a lot of others."

In material prepared for legislative hearings on the Morgan bill, the commission pointed to More University as an example of an "easy degree" institution.

'Sensual Potential'

More's 1986 catalogue, the latest available to the commission, listed several degree programs in "sensuality," with 'labs" and "demonstrations." In a four to six-week "personal sexual intensive," costing $2,800, the "student and members of the Sensuality Department faculty examine the sensual potential of the individual, with the goal of expanding sensory awareness in all areas of life."

Efforts to learn more about this unusual institution were unsuccessful.

A man who identified himself only as "Marty" answered More's phone and said the university is run by "a group of people who've been together a long time," that there is no campus and that classes are held "around the Bay Area." He offered to have Registrar Linda Morgan call back with additional information, but she did not.

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