Smith High School Principal Noah Rogers – at $138,000 the highest-paid Guilford County Schools principal and the 14th highest-paid of 10,000 Guilford County Schools employees – claims and advertises a doctorate from a college that has been described as a substandard, unaccredited college or a “diploma mill” by officials in five states, as well as in news articles.
A diploma mill is a college – a company, actually – that offers diplomas based on little or no academic work for a fee. Diploma mills are usually unaccredited, or are accredited by fake institutions unrecognized in the normal academic world. Some charge by the degree, rather than by the class.
In many cases, diploma mills don’t place heavy burdens on their students, even when it comes to identification. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia has an entry titled, “List of animals with fraudulent diplomas,” which contains the names of eight cats and six dogs who were issued diplomas by diploma mills.
Rogers, who the school system considers one of its star principals, lists three degrees on his resume, or curriculum vitae as it is called in academia: a 1980 bachelor of science degree in social studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a 1982 master’s degree in education administration from Norfolk State University in Virginia, and a 2003 Ph.D. in education administration (magna cum laude) from Madison University in Gulfport, Mississippi.
The program for a Dec. 10, 2008 conference at the Washington, DC-based Alliance for Excellent Education, at which Rogers spoke on improving student achievement, lists him as having “a degree in social studies education from UNC-Chapel Hill, a Master of Arts degree in Urban Education from Norfolk State University, and a Ph.D. from Madison University.”
The obvious inference that could be drawn from the name “Madison University” is that it is a careless abbreviation of “James Madison University,” the name of a recognized, accredited state university in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It’s not.
James Madison University has a sprawling, 712-acre campus in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and an academic staff of 2,659. Madison University consists of a small building in an industrial park in Gulfport, and one online business directory lists it as having between 10 and 19 employees.
James Madison University has a student body of 18,971. Madison University, which is sandwiched between two general contractors and a FedEx shipping facility, has a couple of dozen parking spaces, although, in its Google Earth satellite image, only three of those spaces are filled.
Rogers said that he received his Ph.D. from the Madison University in Gulfport. In case there was any doubt, James Madison University responded to a request for a verification of Rogers’ degree with the following: “To Whom It May Concern: This is to verify that James Madison University has no enrollment record of Noah Rogers.”
The website of James Madison University, to continue using it for the sake of comparison, lists its many degree programs, its student services and its history. Madison University’s website consists of one page, titled “Department of Graduate Records,” along with a curiously generic school seal.
According to the Madison University website, the site is designed for graduates seeking transcripts or education verification – although the purported university won’t provide them without the permission of the graduate.
The site states, “The office of admissions is closed and does not accept enrollment or admission applications.”
The reason for Madison University’s nonexistent admissions office probably lies in the university’s checkered academic and business history.
The Mississippi Commission on College Accreditation lists Madison University on its “ENTITIES NOT APPROVED TO OPERATE IN MISSISSIPPI” list (the underlining and all caps are in the original); the Maine Department of Education lists Madison University as “not approved in Mississippi” – and, therefore, not in Maine; the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization lists it as a school not authorized to offer degrees for licensure in the State of Oregon; the Michigan Civil Service Commission lists it as unaccredited; and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board goes the furthest, putting the university on its list of “institutions whose degrees are illegal to use in Texas.”
If that weren’t enough, the online site Quackwatch.com lists Madison University under “Schools Not Accredited by Recognized Accrediting Agency,” and the Better Business Bureau lists it as unaccredited by the Better Business Bureau and gives it a grade of “F” to boot.
According to the Sacramento Bee, in 2009, a Sacramento County (California) grand jury report found that firefighters there had used diploma mill degrees to get higher pay, costing the City of Sacramento $50,000. The grand jury report was based on an earlier Sacramento Bee story that listed Madison University as one of the colleges involved.
Paragraphs could be written on the mainstream accrediting bodies that don’t recognize Madison University, and the flaky, unrecognized ones that do, but you get the idea. Madison University is not the kind of school you’d expect the highest-paid principal in Guilford County to list on his resume, especially a principal who already had degrees from UNC-CH and Norfolk State – and a degree from Madison University is nothing to brag about.
So why does Rogers claim to have a doctorate, when all signs suggest he doesn’t have a recognized one? He is listed virtually everywhere you look as “Dr. Noah Rogers” – on the Smith High School website, on the Guilford County Schools website, in a document on the website of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, in presentations and papers – in almost every written context since he was hired by former Guilford County School Superintendent Terry Grier in February 2006. He is also regularly called “Dr. Rogers” by other Guilford County Schools administrators and by members of the Guilford County Board of Education.
Guilford County Schools, like other large school districts, has pretensions to being part of college-level academia – but overdoes it. School board meetings frequently seem more like medical conventions than gatherings of K-12 administrators, with administrators referring to each other as “Doctor” in every other sentence. Janitors and lunch ladies probably get called “Doctor” if they’ve been around long enough.
Rogers said he did actual work to get the degree. He said he chose Madison University because it had online courses that allowed him to do the class work after his workday as principal.
Rogers said, “During the doctoral work, I did the coursework, and I did the dissertation for the completion of the requirements.”
Rogers said that Madison University sent him a syllabus for classes, and that he wrote his dissertation and turned it in a chapter at a time. “I had a professor to send it to,” he said. “He and other professionals at the university would look at it, and I would make corrections and send it back. They had their own in-house committee who reviewed my paper.”
Asked who was on his dissertation committee, Rogers said, “Oh, God, it’s been eight years. I don’t remember.” Asked for a copy of the dissertation, he said all his copies were at his house in Norfolk, Virginia, where he was principal at Lake Taylor High School before being hired by Guilford County Schools. He said he got the degree in 2003.
Rogers and Guilford County Schools Chief of Staff Nora Carr said the degree from Madison University had no effect on Rogers’ pay. Teachers are paid at a higher rate if they have doctorates, but principals are like CEOs or free agents – they can charge whatever the market will bear.
“I don’t get paid for the doctorate,” Rogers said. “I didn’t get paid for the doctorate in Virginia. I don’t ask for doctoral pay. It was something I wanted to do for my professional development, and I wanted to do it for myself.”
Carr said Rogers had never used the doctorate in his contract negotiations and that the degree isn’t necessary for a North Carolina principal’s license, which requires only a master’s degree. She said the Guilford County Schools Human Resources department focuses on vetting candidates’ undergraduate and master’s degrees, unless a doctorate is required for licensure, as in the case of a school psychologist. She acknowledged that the legitimacy of degrees is an ethics issue.
Carr said, “Clearly, there is both a procedural and technical issue and an ethical one at stake in this discussion.”
Rogers said he considers his doctorate legitimate, and did no research before getting the degree that set off any red flags.
“I think so,” he said. “I did the work for the degree. I did the work for the dissertation. You may have a different opinion, but that’s my personal opinion … No, I never saw that it was a diploma mill. I did not see that.”
John Eldridge, the regional superintendent for the Guilford County Schools enrichment region, which includes Smith, and Rogers’ immediate superior, said that Rogers was hired before Eldridge took the job, but that, in any case, he placed more stock in a principal’s past performance in other schools and in the difficult North Carolina licensing tests than in doctorates.
“Please don’t let me absolve any responsibility for making sure a person’s credentials are accurate,” Eldridge said. “But if they have an on-file certificate for administration and they’ve been cleared before, I’m looking to see what other experiences they’ve had.”
Eldridge said he has known Rogers for four or five years.
“I know he’s done some considerable work there for some years,” Eldridge said. “I would hope that everything he claims over there is on the up-and-up. But I think it’s better for him to know that this is an issue.”
Rogers has been credited with improving proficiency scores at Smith. North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue, during a June 2009 visit to Smith, hugged Rogers and called him her favorite principal.
Perdue said, “There are a lot of good principals, but he inspired me.”Tags:diploma mill, fake institutions, fraudulent diplomas, professional qualification verification, unaccredited college