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Special Report--

Diplomas for Sale

November 11, 2004

Albany-- Something as simple as a piece of paper can make you feel successful. But, what if you never got your high school diploma? You may have seen tempting ads promising a better life, but are they legit.

It takes years of hard work to earn a high school diploma. A piece of paper that's the gateway to higher education and a better career. Leslie Malone was forced to make a tough decision. She found out she was pregnant and dropped out of high school. "It's tough out there without a diploma," she says.

Eighteen years later it was time to take care of her own future. So, she found herself searching the Internet. Her dreams of becoming a high school graduate about to come true, or so she thought. "It was saying a lot of good things and things they offer."

Cornerstone Christian Correspondence School promised it all. A "Diploma for Sale." Fully accredited, fast, convenient and inexpensive, and it's so simple.

All Leslie had to do is have a friend watch her take five tests at home. Two weeks and $75.00 later, Leslie got her diploma that turned out to be worthless.

Leslie took that special diploma to Albany Tech, but she was rejected. "That's how I found out it wasn't any good." The Cornerstone letter says the mail in diploma is "suitable for framing", but never mentions it's worthless at schools in Georgia.

"Really, it's not worth the paper it's on."

We tried one more time and took Leslie's diploma to Southwest Georgia Technical College in Thomasville to Vice President of Student Affairs Archie Hatcher. "I have, I have seen these before," he says.

Just like before, "We have had to tell them that diploma is essentially worthless."

So, what exactly is the diploma worth? We researched and found out that the Cornerstone Christian Correspondence School is based in Townsend, GA. The school name is printed on the diploma's gold seal and claims it's Accredited. On other paperwork we found a logo with the Accrediting Commission for International or ACI. Turns out the accrediting agency does exist and does have a valid business license in Beebe, Arkansas.

But don't be fooled, if you switch the word International with Independent, you would come up with an accreditation agency that IS accepted in Georgia called the Accrediting Commission for Independent Study or ACIS. "I didn't do any background check on it, if I did I would have known it was no good," Malone said.

Georgia Technical schools recognize ACIS the one we just told you about. Also Regional Accreditation Agencies, like Southern Association of Colleges and Schools also known as SACS, Georgia Accreditation Commission, Inc. and Georgia Private School Accreditation (GAPSAC).

Earlier this year, Albany Tech found out they were accepting diplomas from a school that was not accredited by their Georgia standards. And the school is in our own back yard.

Southwest Georgia Institute of Education is on West Broad Avenue in Albany. They do have a valid business license. I talked to the campus administrator Latonia Clark, and she told me for $465 you can take tests and if you pass you get a high school diploma.

When I asked about accreditation, she told me she doesn't give that information out on the phone and then added they are accredited by the Georgia Commission for Independent Study, we searched that agency and found out that the Georgia Department of Education has never heard of it and technical schools don't recognize it.

"Once we discovered that particular institution did not meet the accreditation information was shared with students and anyone who was accepted, those individuals were grand fathered in," said Dr. Pat Wilson, Admissions Director.

Unless there was a gap in their education. The technical school in Thomasville also doesn't accept Southwest Georgia Institute of Education diplomas. "I think the key is for the individual to be as educated as possible," said Wilson.

Just what Leslie Malone was trying to do. And the Cornerstone Christian Correspondence School tried to get more money. Along with the diploma they sent order forms for a class ring, tassel and a diploma cover.

"It's not right, you know, a Christian don't do things like that, they don't do that," Malone said.

Leslie still doesn't have a high school diploma, but she's enrolled in a free program at the Workforce Development Center in Camilla through Southwest Georgia Technical College. It may be tougher than ordering a diploma in the mail, but at the end the diploma is a guarantee.

The Cornerstone Christian Correspondence School we just told you about is not connected with Cornerstone Christian Academy in Sparks, Georgia. That school is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Independent Study, which is recognized in Georgia.

  • When it comes to searching for a diploma, here's some advice--

First of all be weary of mail order diplomas. Find out what agency has accredited the school. Call the school, college or university you're interested in and ask them if they accept that accreditation. Search the Internet, the legit agencies we told about earlier have websites with a list of schools they have accredited. Do all this before you send money.

posted at 5:25PM by dave.miller@walb.com