A Response to Michael Cox of Rushmore University

In this post, I discussed the education provided by the unaccredited business school Rushmore University. I was quite critical and many readers have written back in defense of the school. One of the more recent comments comes from the founder of the school, Michael Cox. This is my response to his comment.

In a comment to this post, an anonymous poster with the same IP address as Michael Cox made the following remark,

The problem with accreditation is that groups of universities (the monopoly) form associations that accredit the members of their group thus creating the monopoly problem. These associations do not accredit a new university unless it is doing things largely like the existing member schools. For Rushmore to become accredited would mean we would have to adopt the same failed curriculum and policy’s as these schools so our programs would become as irrelevant as these schools.

This is fundamentally the same argument I made in this post, so it should come as no surprise when I say this is an extremely serious problem for the future of higher education. My concern is not that about the truth or falsehood of this idea, but whether or not Rushmore University has been able to accomplish this lofty goal. I do not believe it has.

The Rushmore website is full of the accomplishments of its students. Particularly, the site displays books written and published by its graduates. Some of these books look quite interesting and probably demanded an amount of work and knowledge similar to that needed for a conventional degree. Nevertheless, the books published by Rushmore graduates are quite different from the graduate dissertations of more conventional schools. They do not appear to be works of research that reproduce research-based scholarly literature. In fact, most of them appear to be the kind of book you could pick up in the business section of the World’s Biggest Book Store.

The unconventional nature of Rushmore’s graduate requirement is not really difficult to understand. I do not agree with it, but I do understand it. It does however raise ethical questions concerning the difference between what their degrees recognize and what is being rewarded in an honorary degree. But the idea of rewarding any form of excellence with a degree is not really that novel.

My problem is not with the excellent examples of Rushmore’s alumni. As I have said, there is a certain intuitive sense that can be grasped from the idea of giving Michael Jordan a doctorate because his jump shot is fantastic. My problem is with an understanding of what this concept is meant to represent academically.

Rushmore is a business. It does not just graduate the elite writers of the best-selling business books that it features on its home page. I have not been able to locate this information, but my guess is that Rushmore has graduated hundreds, if not thousands of students. What is the standard that these lesser students have been held to? Is it a standard that is different from a conventional university – like the elite grads featured on the website? Or is it just a lower standard on the same scale?

I suspect that it’s just a lower standard. Remember back in my original post, I discussed a paper about cross-cultural management that was featured on their Website. It has since been removed in a reorganization of the Webpage, but I initially had this to say about the paper.

The Rushmore website contains a number of papers presented to “star professors” in completion of coursework. While I would hesitate to call these papers bad, it is clear that they are not scholarship in the sense that the term is commonly used. Many of them have no academic citations. One 62-page-paper on a topic I am very familiar with (Chinese-Western cultural differences) contains only 7 citations, none of which are truly academic citations.

In response to this post, Dr. Clyde Warden who teaches business courses at several Taiwanese national universities had this to say,

The paper you mention Scott is a good example. The use of Wild Swans (which I have read) as the basis for understanding ‘communist China’ is a bit far fetched and certainly is not related to management in any real way. Why are not clear errors pointed, such as the author’s continuous use of his own experience but no use of interviews or other’s experience or even any searching of underlying reasons. For example, one of the big issues he speaks of in his teaching in the PRC is the late arrival of textbooks. He pins this down to communist influences, yet the same practice is followed in Taiwan. The actual reason has to do with book channels and the willingness of book suppliers to take returns. This is all very basic retailing stuff. Does any professor point this out?

The new page set up to display course papers of graduates continues to leave this problem unanswered. Three of the featured papers are biographies of students that demonstrate nothing whatsoever about student ability. My point is that I am very aware of what the standard for less than excellent students at conventional universities is supposed to be. It is a standard widely understood by teachers at these institutions generated over decades, even centuries, of development. It is one that has been generated through the consensus of numerous professional scholars. In a sense, it is one side of that problem of monopoly control over post-secondary education we talked about earlier, but the flip side of this is that the standard is very clear. I have no evidence at all that Rushmore has a standard for its less than excellent students. In fact, it appears to me that its professors are willing to accept anything that students throw at them.

There’s a lot more I could say, but I’ll just make one more point here. In my original post, I made the following challenge to the school,

…I’d like to hear from people with more information about Rushmore. Bear in mind stories that run like, “I went to Rushmore and I got a good job” are not likely to get me to change my post. What I’d really like to see are verifiable statements from the hiring officers of major companies stating that they will hire Rushmore University diploma holders.

While this post has generated 25 comments, many of which are positive comments from alumni of the school, not even 1 satisfies the criteria I specified above. Perhaps Mr. Cox has the connections to make this happen. If so, I invite correction.



Accreditation is like FDA food inspection. Maybe we could each inspect our own meat, but it sure helps to have knowledgable people with experience and power to verify and inspect on our behalf. Accreditation protects students from predators.

Here are some things Rushmore doesn’t have:

1) Real classes with real classmates who have real discussions

2) Admission tests. Tests aren’t
everything, but they help you evaluate your strengths. No one should admit into their econ PhD degree, but I’m pretty sure Rushmore would.

3) Recommendations. You don’t have to have any one vouch for you.

4) Admission requirements of any type. How does Rushmore decide which degrees to accept? I have no idea. My advice: go with cheapo degree mills for your bachelor and masters before applying to Rushmore.

5) A Library. My school has several million volumes. Up the street I use my wife’s academic library which is also millions of volumes. We also have databases, statistical software, reference librarians, archives, government docs, microfilm, language helps, etc, etc, etc. You can cut corners on some of this, but Rushmore doesn’t appear to have even the most basic of research subscriptions (which, yes, require real money and real computers).

I have no doubt a bright 30 year old with no degree can write a book of comparable crapiness to many in your local Amazon business section, but if you want to do real research you need real resources.

6) Real requirements. The PhD they have lets you mix and match programs or make your own? WTF… I bet Cox took real comprehensive exams and wrote his dissertation in a real library before taking a real exam so he could put CPA after his name. Don’t you want this too? Nobody who has any real knowledge of Rushmore would ever accept a degree from it. The only value I can possibly see for the degree is in demonstrating an impulse for social climbing….

As Dr. Cox requests, I think everyone should simply take a look at the Website’s example works. http://community.rushmore.edu/articlelive/

Here is a very typical example, just about four pages long, double spaced, report on a book about time management. The student’s very last paragraph should show at least what the main points taken from this book are:

“Although this book is a very useful tool for somebody who has problems with time management, I personally believe that my time management is adequate for what I am trying to achieve each day. None of my long term plans or goals has changed simply because most of them were realized a few years ago such as; buying my retirement home, having a son and buying a Harley-Davidson.
My immediate goal for the near future is to obtain my MBA in order to secure my position within the company or even to move up more quickly. The only thing I have to do for this is to come in early, follow my study schedule and of course not lose my motivation.
However, I will make good use of this book by lending it to one of my best friends who is continuously crisis managing and trying to procrastinate.”
I don’t see anything here that is beyond ME ME ME and MY MY MY. The total use of the book is that it can be loaned to a friend. If this is an improvement over traditional MBAs, then business is doomed!

Clyde, we have over 50 papers on our website and over 100 student profiles and a few dozen capstone papers. It is easy to find one paper – in this case one that only earned the student one credit and try to make fun of it. Prospective students dig deeper and look at many papers as well as papers on our students own websites. They also in some cases look at students books. What other schools openly publish as many student papers on their websites. Not many , especially few require as many papers as we do. Also academic style papers are useless to most of our student The idea is for them to apply ideas at work thus they do talk about themselves doing this. Companies would rather see this kind of study undertaken by their students as the are aware of the useless curriculum offered by the traditional business schools and their tenured professors. How many people read your dissertation – I know few have read mine. Thanks to critics like Prof Pfeffer companies are getting wise to the supposed value of traditional business school degrees.

I am almost certain that these are automated responses. Nothing Michael Cox has said has addressed the fact that we are have said he is not actually writing these responses.

Regardless, I really like this one, ” Also academic style papers are useless to most of our student”. So there are no tests, only papers, but some papers don’t count. What kind do? The autobiographies that he features on his website? Tell me how this demonstrates the abilty to generate ideas for a company?


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