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Tuesday, February 20, 2001

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
At the First Interstate Building, Honolulu University seems to
consist of three offices. This door leads to the Office of Student
Affairs; down the hall is the Honolulu University Executive
Office in room 654; and room 625 is the Honolulu
University Conference Room.

School logo


Honolulu University
stands behind its
'unapproved' status

Bullet Check school before committing
Bullet Satisfaction outweighs accreditation

By Suzanne Tswei

The newspaper ad promises a convenient, nontraditional route to a college degree.

Military training, experiences from life and work count as college credits toward a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree. You don't have to attend classes. Instead, you'll be guided in independent study by experienced faculty mentors via phone, fax and email.

Even better, Honolulu University of the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities offers the lowest tuitions and installment payments.

But there's one big catch: It is not accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the recognized authority for accrediting schools in the western part of the United States, which includes Hawaii.

Honolulu University President Arthur Yamada insists his university, which began operations in 1987, is not a "diploma mill" -- one of those unaccredited schools characterized by easy degrees awarded within a short time for set fees.

It is a school offering off-campus learning for nontraditional students, such as housewives and full-time workers who are unable to attend classes, or foreigners who seek American degrees, he said in a recent interview.

Yamada freely admitted that the school is not accredited -- one of more than 100 unaccredited schools in Hawaii, according to officials. The school's Web site and literature also include its unaccredited status.

But, Yamada said, accreditation is voluntary, and he chose not to apply for accreditation in the United States because the university serves an international student body.

Instead, he said, Honolulu University is a member of the Academy for the Promotion of International Culture and Scientific Exchange, which he describes as an organization that accredits some of the foremost higher education institutions in Europe and the Near East.

Still, the academy is not recognized in the United States, and state law requires a school to declare clearly that it is not accredited by an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

"What it comes down to, when you are looking at a school, is it approved by the Department of Education?" said David Lohmann, professor of management at Hawaii Pacific University.

Accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges amounts to approval by the education department, he said. Accreditation by organizations not sanctioned by the education department does not carry the same weight, he said.

Accreditation is "not an absolute," but it is "an essential characteristic of quality higher education," adds Colleen Sathre, vice president for planning and policy at the University of Hawaii.

Lohmann and Sathre both have testified before the state Legislature, urging stronger laws to govern unaccredited schools, which have proliferated in the islands since the 1990s because of Hawaii's relaxed laws.

Legislators tightened the laws in 1999 to eliminate schools using Hawaii as mere mail drops. Among other requirements, schools now must maintain offices in the state and have at least one employee who lives in Hawaii.

However, a bill before the current Legislature proposes to eliminate the requirement that schools disclose their unaccredited status. Senate President Robert Bunda introduced the bill on behalf of James Tharp, a lawyer who said he and a group of investors are seeking relief from existing laws governing unaccredited schools.

Hawaii's laws purposefully have steered clear of the quality of education, such as policies and standards, leaving it to accreditation organizations, said Stephen Levins, acting executive director of state Office of Consumer Protection.

While the state does not have laws governing the quality of education, as do some states, it does require schools to disclose their unaccredited status. The OCP investigates misrepresentations and has brought several lawsuits against various schools falsely claiming accreditation or endorsement by the state, Levins said.

In the past few years, the OCP has investigated more than 10 unaccredited colleges, some simple mail drops, Levins said. The investigations resulted in closures, monetary judgments, fines and penalties, he said.

The state is investigating Honolulu University, but Levins declined to elaborate, adding that an investigation does not imply wrongdoing.

OCP records show four complaints against Honolulu University, the last one filed last year. No information was available on that complaint, which is still being investigated.

Three previous complaints allege the school misrepresented its accreditation status. Two of them resulted in the OCP sending warning letters to the university about proper disclosure of accreditation.

In the third complaint, filed in 1998, the school agreed to refund $4,400 to a New Jersey student.

Anne Deschene, president of the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii, said her office shows no complaints against Honolulu University during the past three years, which is the length of time complaints are kept on file. But callers asking about the university prompted the bureau to open a file.

Yamada said Honolulu University, with offices on King Street but no library or classrooms, has 50 to 60 Hawaii students, while 4,000 more are in Asia and elsewhere. He said the school hopes to attract more local students with recent advertisements in Hawaii newspapers. State law requires at least 25 students to be enrolled in Hawaii.

The school's Web site claims to have nearly 1,000 faculty members located around the world but does not list who they are. It offers degrees in business, education, psychology, human development, social science, health science and religion.

The school charges a flat fee for a degree: $3,000 for a bachelor's, $3,500 for a master's, and $4,000 for a doctorate.


Check out school
before committing

The burden is on consumers to investigate before committing to any school, officials warn.

"If you are spending a lot of money to get a degree, you should check on the product or the service," said Stephen Levins, acting executive director of the state Office of Consumer Protection.

Hawaii has more than 100 unaccredited schools, he said. They typically do not market in Hawaii, advertising instead in international magazines or on the Internet to attract foreign and mainland students, he said.

Students are attracted by the promise of receiving degrees in "remarkably quick time," Levins noted -- in some cases, earning doctorates in less than a month.

However, education experts warned that students may not be able to transfer their credits to other schools, and employers may favor applicants with degrees from accredited schools.

To find out if a school is accredited, contact:

Bullet The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), (510) 748-9001. Or check the WASC Web site:

Bullet The American Council on Education (ACE), a nonprofit agency, (202) 939-9336

Bullet You also can order a guide listing all accredited schools for $59.95 plus shipping, (800) 225-5800.

To check on complaints or to file a complaint, call:

Bullet The state Office of Consumer Protection, 587-3295.

Bullet The Better Business Bureau of Hawaii, 536-6956. The BBB also offers tips to spot diploma mills in "Useless College Degrees." Ask for tele-tip 150.

Suzanne Tswei, Star-Bulletin

'UH was expensive. ...
I've been very happy (at Honolulu University),
and I am going to recommend the
school to all my friends.'

Michelle Donaldson


A student says she chose
Honolulu University in part for
the convenience, and she
has no regrets

By Suzanne Tswei

CONVENIENCE is what attracted Michelle Donaldson to Honolulu University.

Plus, her father, a retired U.S. Marine master sergeant, had received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in environmental science from the school.

The fact that the school is unaccredited is not a problem, Donaldson said.

Her father had been happy with his degrees, and she believes the satisfaction she receives from doing the work is more important than the school having the proper accreditation.

Donaldson had tried the University of Hawaii-Manoa for a semester after graduating from Castle High School. But the commute and parking problems made it difficult for the Kaneohe resident to continue.

"And UH was expensive," Donaldson said, and working at her parents' bomb disposal firm allowed her little study time.

After her father died last year, her workload increased, putting even more strain on her limited time.

"But I really wanted to go back to school. I want to do something with my life," she said.

She eventually chose Honolulu University after meeting the staff.

"I checked it out first. I wasn't so sure what I was getting myself into," Donaldson said. "But then I met (university president) Dr. (Arthur) Yamada, and everybody on his staff was so friendly and helpful."

Donaldson said her tuition for her bachelor's is $2,000, and she received two credits for her three-month work at a doctor's office as a medical assistant.

Donaldson said she has been communicating with her California-based mentor by telephone, email and regular mail. She also meets with him about once a month when he comes to Honolulu.

"I've been very happy, and I am going to recommend the school to all my friends," Donaldson said, praising the personal attention from her mentor as "extremely helpful."

She began her studies in March last year and has finished two classes, Donaldson said.

Donaldson said she chooses her classes and searches out books on the subject at bookstores and libraries.

Her mentor approves or disapproves the books, and she satisfies her coursework by writing outlines and summaries of the books. No tests are involved.

"It's up to me, basically, how fast I work or how slow I work," Donaldson said.

She hopes to complete the required 11 classes within another year to get her degree.

Honolulu University

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