Taxpayers Foot Bill for Questionable Degrees - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates:

Taxpayers Foot Bill for Questionable Degrees

Eddie Andrews, NES vice president Eddie Andrews, NES vice president
Dr. Clark McKinney, assistant professor at Southwest Tennessee Community College Dr. Clark McKinney, assistant professor at Southwest Tennessee Community College
Teresa Corlew, spokeswoman for Nashville Electric Service Teresa Corlew, spokeswoman for Nashville Electric Service
Tax activist Ben Cunningham Tax activist Ben Cunningham

An exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation first exposed some state employees and their questionable degrees, and tax payers paid for some of those degrees? Get this - tax payers have continued paying.

NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams noted a real education at a real school can cost a lot of money. It turns out a not-so-real education can cost just as much money - just ask the spokesperson for Nashville Electric Service.

"He didn't realize it wasn't a legitimate institution," Teresa Corlew said about NES Vice President Eddie Andrews, whose resume boasts an impressive-sounding Masters of Business Administration.

Andrews has an official-looking diploma from Kennedy-Western University.

"He said the course work seemed difficult," Corlew told Williams. "He also said he wrote a 160-page thesis, so he assumed it was a legitimate institution."

Four years ago, a congressional investigation showed how the unaccredited Kennedy-Western University was a highlighted example of what was dubbed a diploma mill.

"The test was open-book, multiple-choice, a hundred questions," an investigator told the Senate committee.

Committee members heard that students were expected to buy a few textbooks, but the tests could usually be aced by just flipping through the index. If students flunked they could retake the same tests until they passed.

"Based on my observations during the time I worked at Kennedy-Western, I can tell you that there is no value to a Kennedy-Western education," a former employee testified.

In Andrews' case, NES records show he delivered straight A's, and the power company paid the bills: about $15,000 in all for Andrews and two other NES employees.

Then, according to Corlew, NES "just made the policy decision going forward that we would not reimburse tuition for non-accredited schools."

Corlew said NES decided a few years back to stop paying for courses from non-accredited schools, but kept paying the bills for those who already working on degrees.

"It was just to be fair to the employees," she said.

Tax activist Ben Cunningham responded, "I don't see that they are being fair to anybody."

In fact, Cunningham said NES's handing of the Kennedy-Western situation shows a degree of foolishness.

"Once you understand that this is a bad degree, that it is a worthless meaningless degree, then take action, go to that person say, look we've made a mistake in your case," Cunningham added.

What really got the tax activist was NewsChannel 5's discovery that professors at some state colleges actually get bonuses for Ph.D.s from unaccredited, fly-by-night schools.

Dr. Michael Wright's resume boasts two Ph.D. degrees from a school that was forced to shut down in Hawaii, and then forced to close in Australia.

Still, the Southwest Tennessee professor gets an extra $1,700 a year for those diplomas.

Dr. Clark McKinney boasts a Ph.D. from Brighton University - a school that's also unaccredited, but that still gives him an extra $1,900 a year.

"That's crazy, that's ludicrous," Cunningham added. "We entrust to these people the integrity and the credibility of higher education."

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Board of Regents said: "While TBR policy on academic hiring and promotion specifies that degrees required for a given position must be from accredited institutions, TBR policy on compensation does not speak to the point."

Cunningham couldn't believe the reaction.

"They are saying to us it doesn't matter if you have a bogus degree. You can still come up here, and we will still give you a raise. It's crazy."

And with all the money that's spent on higher education, Cunningham said taxpayers deserve more for their money.

NES said it stopped paying for those unaccredited courses long ago, but the state Board of Regents just now said it's reviewing the policies that let those professors collect bonuses on their questionable degrees.

State personnel officials said they are also reviewing their policies to make sure that no one gets hired in the future with bogus degrees, but we don't know how many may have already slipped through.

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