A high school principal in Kansas was forced to resign her upcoming position after a group of student journalists uncovered her degrees were from a school branded an unaccredited diploma mill.
Amy Robertson was hired March 6 as principal of Pittsburg High School, in Pittsburg, Kansas. She was to start in August at a starting salary of $93,000. Meanwhile, when the young journalists began researching her for an upcoming story, the were unable to verify Robertson’s credentials.
Their first red flag emerged when an URL they had failed to take them to the website for Corllins University. Internet searches about the school later uncovered a reason: it’s not an actual university, but an online business that sells degrees.
According to an article in Pittsburg High School newspaper, The Booster Redux, Robertson obtained a master’s and doctorate degree from Corllins, yet the school is not accredited or recognized by any educational body, including the U.S. Department of Education. Its physical address is unknown, the Redux reported.
Robertson Resigns — Incoming PHS principal quits before starting work – Pittsburg Morning Sun https://t.co/yigWIQlYvV
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Robertson, however, told the school paper staff during a conference call she physically attended Corllins University and was educated at its California campus before the school lost its accreditation. She told the Kansas City Star that her degrees are legitimate, and that the group of six student reporters did not base their findings on fact.
“The current status of Corllins University is not relevant because when I received my MA in 1994 and my PhD in 2010, there was no issue,” she said in an email. “All three of my degrees have been authenticated by the US government.”
Robertson resigned Tuesday, April 4.
“In light of the issues that arose, Dr. Robertson felt it was in the best interest of the district to resign her position,” Pittsburg Superintendent Destry Brown said in a statement. “The Board has agreed to accept her resignation.”
Brown said a claim Robertson made that she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tulsa also could not be verified. What had been confirmed was that Robertson was suspended from working as a principal in Dubai, where she currently lives, because she was not authorized.
The story of Robertson’s resignation was picked up by a number of national news outlets Tuesday afternoon, including the Boston Globe Spotlight Team and the Washington Post.
Pittsburg High School journalism adviser Emily Smith praised her student reporters, although she was forced to recuse herself from the story because she was on the committee to hire Robertson.
“They were not out to get anyone to resign or to get anyone fired,” Smith told media. “They worked very hard to uncover the truth.”
Several websites list Corllins as a diploma mill. The school name is linked to at least URLs. Two are links to holding pages. Another appears to be that of a college, but contains no verifiable information. The Corllins Facebook page contains stock photos and images that appear to be taken from established colleges.
— Mae_Westside (@Mae_Westside) April 5, 2017
Often called schools that award degrees based on “life experience,” there are a number of diploma mills in operation. Most operate online with URLs registered outside the United States. For a fee, they provide customers with educational credentials, including printed degrees, letters from the institution, and transcripts. However, students do not complete any coursework or exams.
Some common diploma mills are “Shaftesbury University,” “University of Dunham,” “Redding University,” and “Suffield University.”
The schools are known for their claims of accreditation by several organizations such as the “Accrediting Commission of International Colleges and Universities,” “U.S. Bureau of Education,” and the “The Higher Education Transfer Alliance.” The organizations either do not exist or have no authority to accredit institutions of higher learning.
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