AIKEN - A principal at an Aiken County Middle School who uses the formal title of doctor defends his degree from an online university dubbed a diploma mill by the federal government and the South Carolina Department of Education.
David Yates, 41, who has been the principal at Jackson Middle School for the past three years and was the assistant principal at Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle, said Tuesday that he received a doctorate in education from Kennedy-Western University in 2002.
The school, which has offices in California and Wyoming but has no campus and offers its courses over the Internet, was discussed last month during U.S. Senate hearings into the use of federal education funds for degrees from schools with questionable academic standing. Former employees testified that the school sold degrees.
Janis Poda, the senior director of the state's teacher-quality division, said Kennedy-Western is not an accredited school and does not provide an acceptable undergraduate education needed for teaching. Likewise, a doctorate degree from the school does not give teachers or administrators a higher salary. Aiken County district officials said Mr. Yates does not receive compensation, which would normally be about $2,400 a year, for the doctorate degree.
But Mr. Yates, who also has a bachelor's degree in English from South Carolina State University and two master's degrees in education from Cambridge College and Augusta State University, said he was unaware of the allegations against Kennedy-Western until a reporter's phone call. He also said he had phone conversations with Kennedy-Western professors, mailed in course work and took proctored tests.
"It's a program like any other school," he said. "I would put my dissertation against anyone else's from another school. I did the work."
Mr. Yates also said: "I did not get this for financial gain. I did this for a professional endorsement."
Dr. Poda said her staff review the status of about 10,000 teachers and administrators each year, and each year they find between five and 10 people who try to upgrade their status with a bogus degree.
Few states accept the degree, and in some states, it's considered criminal fraud for using the degree, said Renea Eschleman, the coordinator of nonpublic institution licensing for the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education.
"It's a pretty big red flag to me," she said. "It looks like something it's not."
In Georgia, six Gwinnett County teachers earned $25,000 in additional salary by getting degrees from an online school that required no coursework. The teachers returned the money and resigned in April.
The percentage of educators with fake degrees is small, but not all school districts check credentials, said California-based author John Bear, who was the FBI's principal consultant and expert witness on diploma mills for 12 years. He said the industry brings about $300 million each year.
Repeated phone calls to Kennedy-Western officials were not returned.
Frank Roberson, the associate superintendent for Aiken County, said Mr. Yates was hired as principal before he obtained his doctorate from Kennedy-Western. He said hiring decisions were not based on that degree.
"There would be some concern about trying to gain advancement through an unaccredited university," he said. "This is new information, and we will have to study and review it before doing anything."
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