What’s Wrong with St. Clements University?

In a comment posted to this posting of my blog, Billy Sichone made the following statement.

Scott Sommers‘ views are good but seem to be based on a self reticulum criterion (SRC) rather than on objectivity. Granted that the top Universities nearly guarantee a good “Product” but as mentioned earlier by Devan, the World is going global and the perceptions about many things including University education is changing. I would therefore not be surprised if a graduate from “Timbukutu University” shocked the world with his/her grey matter one day! In other words, lets come out of the ancient boxed kind of thinking and move on. Personally, I equally have great suspicions about clandestine institutions habouring ill motives but ones that are progressive ought to be applauded if they have what it takes. Viewed from another angle, I think the traditional Universities fear losing their position in the world ratings and a drastic drop in the admission numbers as people shift to the newer modes of learning. Mind you, we are heading for the virtual class room. What think ye?

He goes on to say that

St Clements is one of the emerging Universities that is non-traditional and strategically using modern means such as IT and eking an academic niche for itself. Its materials are excellent and has its tentacles all over the world. Although I have not studied with St Clements my self, I would not mind granted the opportunity. I have also met and worked with some of its former students, excellent minds!

Try it and see!

Mr. Sichone’s e-mail address identifies him as affiliated with World Vision International, and a web search indicates that he is a Reformed Baptist missionary in Zambia. While I can appreciate Mr. Sichone’s commitment to God and his mission, I believe he holds some pretty naive opinions about tertiary education and particularly about how St. Clements fits into all of this.

Let’s start by asking a simple question; what is it that St. Clements does that’s so special? After all, they get support from all corners of the globe and all kinds of people – so it seems – so what is this thing that everyone thinks is so great?

If you look at the school’s website, nothing seems particularly extraordinary. In fact, the most notable aspect of the site is the great lengths that the school goes through to appear transparent. Their site lists all kinds of information that less controversial universities don’t have. For example, you can find a list of organizations that recognize their degreeslinks detailing the work of their profesors, even web-based complete copies of dissertations that the school has recognized. I suspect much of this has to do with an attempt to deal with the criticism they have received.

Apparently, St. Clements is involved in bringing education to students at distance. But this is hardly revolutionary. While some places in the world find this a rather difficult concept to understand, Canadian and American universities have been pushing ahead with this idea for decades. Completely on-line schools, such ITI and the University of Phoenix have no trouble at all obtaining official accreditation and government funding for their students.

In fact, ITI and Phoenix are no longer even particularly interesting examples of distance education or unconventional education. One of the universities where I studied is a pioneer of innovative business education ideas. Their most recent development is an MBA offered in conjunction with Cornell University that is taught, …”via a state-of-the-art, real-time, interactive videoconference system.”

Let me come clean on this one. I have read thousands of words and hundreds of webpages on this matter. There is probably no corner of the St. Clements website I have not seen. I have been in personal contact with senior operating officers of the school. I have read reams of other material about the school. And the more I read, the more I was left with this awful nagging feeling about the school.

Many years ago, the South Koreans attempted to build an ocean-going vessel industry. At first, their attempts at ship building were disastrous. But eventually, they got the hang of it, and today, South Korean companies are among among the world’s leading constructors of ships. In a sense, they constructed a ship building industry from scratch. St. Clements almost seems as though it too is trying to do this; build a university from scratch.

But they just can’t get it right. Some of its professors are clearly on the same scale as respectable American schools, others have qualifications that look like they were bought. Some faculty are involved in serious scholarly work; others carry the title “Dr.” and “Professor” for what appears to be no work at all. And with such scholarly leadership, I have no doubt that some of their students are as good as anyone you’d find among those schools that I called “respectable”. But I doubt that most of them could be.

So St. Clements is a real school. It is a real university. It’s trying to do all the same things that regular univerities do in pretty much all the same ways. And not just that, it’s trying to look like it’s one of those other universities. It’s just that it doesn’t do any of those university-type things very well. It is affiliated with organizations that have little or no meaning. It has faculty whose right to that position is questionable. And it continues to act as though it is a legitimate place for anyone on Earth to get an education, when in fact, it is an institution whose education and certification only matter in the poorest, most deprived regions of the world.

It continues to be a Third World university.

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Scott, the most important comment you make concerns “it is an institution whose education and certification only matter in the poorest, most deprived regions of the world”. In short, the same can be for 1000s of colleges/universities in Africa, Latin America and Asian. For example, how much value does a degree from a rural Taiwanese ‘university’ (read high school) really have? The answer lies in the quotation I have used from your previous message, i.e. they are simply institutions whose education and certification only matter in the poorest, most deprived regions of their worlds. Given this isn’t the true issue of this debate one over the covert nature of what higher education is? Perhaps people have only been critical of St Clements as it has been more open about it operations than other institutions due to it advertising itself via its website, and at the end of the day it doesn’t hide what it is – a private company.

I agree with you 100%. In fact, I made a similar point in my posting on “St. Clements and the Globalization of Education”.
http://scottsommers.blogs.com/taiwanweblog/2004/08/st_clements_uni.html
My problem with St. Clements has never been that they are inferior to schools such as those in rural Taiwan. Rather, my problem is that its supporters appear to believe it offers a real alternative to the less controversial schools of the developed world. In that sense, it does not hide that it is a private company, but it does hide that its education is virtually meaningless unless you are willing to work in the local job markets (as opposed to expat markets) of impoverished countries.

Sott Sommers,

THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ST. CLEMENTS UNIVERSITY, ONLY THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU, SCOTT.

Who are you, Scott? What is your qualification? Which university do you come from? Are you from World Class university? Are you a Novel Prize candidate? Or just a frustrated charlatan seeking to champion education by attacking non-traditional educational institutions!

“….In that sense, it (St. Clements University) does not hide that it is a private company, but it does hide that its education is virtually meaningless unless you are willing to work in the local job markets (as opposed to expat markets) of impoverished countries.” – Scott’s quotation.

Scott, the purpose of education is NOT just to get jobs and earn money desparately like an unemployed desperado. St. Clements University market is the adult market who are mostly accomplished individuals who are themselves having degrees from traditional universities in most cases – some are well-known.

From Thomas Paine

It is interesting that a person with such a message should hide behind a non-existent e-mail address. But it does not surprise me. The internet is full of comments concerning St. Clements that hide behind anonymous names or vague wording.

What originally drew my attention to St. Clements was postings on Dave’s ESL Cafe asking about the marketability of their degrees. This in turn is what shaped the nature of my postings here and elsewhere. St. Clements degrees are certainly real degrees that document a real level of academic achievement. On the other hand, if you are looking for a degree that gives you marketability in the wider international market, St. Clements is not a good investment. Outside of local hire positions in nations with economic problems, a St. Clements degree will be of no use.

It’s not the package, but what is inside the package. St. Clements University and all the other institutions providing distance education may be located in less known countries, but if they offer quality programs and have modes of delivery and methods of assessment that only those deserving are allowed to graduate, then, they should be given credit than maligned.

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