Clayton College of Natural Health:
Be Wary of the School and Its Graduates

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Many nonaccredited correspondence schools issue "degrees" and certificates which suggest that the recipient is a qualified expert who can provide rational advice about nutrition or health care. These documents are promoted as though they are equivalent in meaning to established credentials—which they are not. One of the most prolific was the Clayton College of Natural Health (CCNH), of Birmingham, Alabama, offered "degrees" and certificates in "natural health," traditional naturopathy, "holistic nutrition" and related subjects. CCNH described itself as "the world's leading college of natural health" with over 25,000 graduates. In July 2010, it suddenly announced that it was closing. This article explains why I recommend avoiding its alumni.

Background History

According to 2003 version of the CCNH Web site:

In the late 1970s Lloyd Clayton, Jr., N.D., who had recovered his own health through natural healing, established an eco-friendly herb company. Soon, his new company was inundated by customer inquiries regarding herbs and how to use them. Delighted to discover such strong worldwide interest in natural health, he and family members created two distance learning colleges in 1980: The Clayton School of Natural Healing and American Holistic College of Nutrition. Coming together in 1997 as Clayton College of Natural Health, the school now offers college degree programs in traditional naturopathy, natural health, holistic nutrition, continuing education for graduates, certificate programs in herbal studies, healthcare professional studies, and iridology, and concentration programs in herbology, iridology, and nutrition and lifestyles [1].

Application packets I collected in 1983, 1985, 1989, 1991, and 1995 provide additional details. During the early 1980s, the school was called "Dr. Clayton's School of Natural Healing" and the credentials offered were "a beautiful hand lettered diploma displaying your training as NUTRITIONAL CONSULTANT, MASTER IRIDOLOGIST, MASTER HERBOLOGIST." The tuition was $800 for the nutrition consultant course and $425 for either of the other courses. A brochure stated that Clayton had received his doctor of naturopathy degree in 1978 and was a "specialist in herbology and massage."

By 1985, the school was called "The Clayton School of Natural Healing," the catalog offered a "Doctor of Naturopathy" program, and Clayton's product line had expanded to include homeopathic products and vitamin and mineral formulas. In 1985, East/West Journal reported that the tuition was $695 for a 100-hour course [2]. In 1991, the school offered "Doctor of Holistic Health" and "Doctor of Science" Programs. By this time, tuition for the "Doctor of Naturopathy" program had risen to $1,735 with a $300 discount if the entire amount was paid in advance. The application form in the packets from 1983 through 1991 was a single page that asked nothing about previous education. The only apparent requirements for admission were a name, an address, and payment of tuition.

The 1995 catalog stated that the Clayton School of Natural Healing and the American Holistic College of Nutrition had been "brought together as part of the American College of Natural Health." By this time, the catalog had expanded to 48 pages and offered bachelor, master's, and doctoral programs leading to eight different degrees, with tuition ranging from $1,435 for the Master of Science in Natural Health to $4,485 for a B.S./M.S./doctoral program. Unlike previous versions, the catalog was printed on high-quality paper and the application form asked about educational and work experiences.

Each packet I received was accompanied by a list of "Dr. Clayton's" herbal products. Over the years, the product line gradually expanded to include homeopathic as well as vitamin and mineral products. For many years, the "Wellness Guide" on the Dr. Clayton's Naturals Web site contained a table of "remedies" to explain the intended purposes of the products. The targeted ailments included acne, asthma, candidiasis, fibromyalgia, infection, kidney stones, hepatitis, impotence, parasites, and dozens of other health concerns. These claims were illegal.

In 2003, CCNH tuition fees for the "degree" programs ranged from $3,500 to $8,800, with discounts available for prepayment.

Meaningless "Accreditation"

Accreditation constitutes public recognition that an educational program meets the administrative, organizational, and financial criteria of a recognized agency. In the United States, educational standards for schools are set by a network of agencies approved by the U.S. Office of Education (USOE) or the Council on Recognition of Postsecondary Accreditation (CORPA). USOE or CORPA do not accredit individual schools, but they approve the national and regional agencies that do so. Almost all such agencies are voluntary and nongovernmental. Nonaccredited schools offering health-related instruction almost always advocate unscientific concepts. Moreover, is not possible to learn to properly care for patients without lengthy supervised experience with patients, which most nonaccredited schools, including Clayton, do not offer. Clayton states that it is accredited by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and the American Naturopathic Medical Accreditation Board. However, these are not recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education, which means that "accreditation" by them is meaningless.

In 1998, an official of the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization concluded that Clayton's naturopathy graduates would not be eligible for licensure in Oregon [3]. During the course of its investigation, the department acquired four diplomas issued to one "graduate" (Joyce M. Randrup) during a 14-month period. Randrup's "Doctor of Naturopathy" diploma was dated January 25, 1988, and her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. diplomas were all dated March 28, 1989.

Unscientific Teachings

CCNH's courses have included instruction in "alternative" cancer treatments, aromatherapy, "the ayurvedic approach," Bach Flower remedies, biochemical individuality, spectro-chrome (color) therapy, detoxification, enzymatic nutritional therapy, fasting techniques, homeopathy, imaginal healing, iridology, psychodietetics, reflexology, therapeutic touch, and "methods for determining your own optimal supplement levels." I have not reviewed the actual course materials, but all of these methods involve irrational theories and methods. The nature of CCNH's teachings is also reflected in the brazen claims of its graduates. Here are a few examples of people who have listed one or more "degrees" from Clayton or the American Holistic College of Nutrition:

Clayton's "Rebuttal to Quackwatch"

In January 2009, Clayton published what it called a "rebuttal" to this article that contained misinformation about me collected from the Internet [11]. Most of the misinformation was part of a libel campaign that has targeted me for several years [12]. One paragraph illustrated the extraordinary degree of baloney that my critics have concocted in their attempt to damage my credibility:

In 2002, health writer Helke Ferrie decided to test Quackwatch’s insistence that it relies on public support, according to the Quackwatch representative with whom she spoke. According to Ferrie, when she attempted to apply for membership she was told the annual fee was $25,000. When Ferrie said, “That’s fine, send me the membership application,” the voice on the other end asked if she was calling on behalf of a corporation. When Ferrie indicated that she was not calling for a corporation, the Quackwatch representative said, “We prefer corporate members.”

This passage appeared in an article in Vitality magazine in 2002 [13] and is a complete fabrication. I have never said that Quackwatch relied on public support—or any support—because it doesn't. As noted on my Web site, donations are welcome, but if they don't cover the expenses of operating my Web sites, I pay the rest out of my pocket [14]. Ferrie's claim that she spoke with a "Quackwatch representative" is rather odd because nobody but me "represents" Quackwatch and she never spoke with me. Her story about applying for membership is even stranger because Quackwatch has not been a membership organization since the mid-1970s, and when it was, membership was free.

Closing Announced

In 2008, Alabama, which had been a haven for substandard schools, began implementing a new rule that private, degree granting, post-secondary educational institutions must be accredited by a recognized agency or be a candidate for accreditation. As of October 1, this requirement applied to any such institution that applies for initial licensure or renewal [15]. Clayton's license was due to expire on December 1, 2008, but the Alabama Community College Web site indicates that it was renewed until January 31, 2011. Clayton was able to remain licensed by becoming a candidate for accreditation by the Distance Education and Training Council for a new program that would lead to a bachelor's degree in nutrition. However, it had to drop its naturopathy program.

In July 2010, the Birmingham News revealed that Clayton was "preparing to cease operations" and its demise was the result of the economic recession [16]. However, former employees have told me that there were other factors.

In November 2010, a class-action suit was filed on behalf of an estimated 5,000+ people who had enrolled in CCNH and submitted most or all of their tuition in advance. The suit alleges that CCNH had refused to refund tens of millions of tuition dollars for programs that were not completed [17].

The Bottom Line

CCNH did have one potentially valuable aspect. Its credentials are a reliable sign of someone not to consult for advice.

References

  1. A natural birth. CCNH Web site, archived April 19, 2003.
  2. Miller BW. Natural healing through naturopathy. East/West Journal 15(12):55-59, 1985.
  3. Young DA. Letter to William S. Fishburne III, Feb 12, 1998.
  4. Barrett S. The bizarre claims of Hulda Clark. Quackwatch, Nov 9, 2004.
  5. McKeith G. Miracle Superfood: Wild Blue-Green Algae. Los Angeles: Keats Publishing, 1999.
  6. About McKeith Research. McKeith Research Web site, accessed Aug 6, 2005.
  7. Dr. Amy's message. Neurological Research Institute Web site, accessed October 16, 2008.
  8. Mirkin G. Acid/alkaline theory of disease is nonsense. Quackwatch, Feb 6, 2003.
  9. Herbalist in Alpine pleads guilty to reduced charge. Deseret News (Salt Lake City), Feb 5, 1996.
  10. Barrett S. Live blood cell analysis: Another gimmick to sell you something. Quackwatch, Feb 23, 2005.
  11. Clayton College of Natural Health responds to Quackwatch. CCNH Web site January 27, 2009.
  12. Barrett S. A response to Tim Bolen. Quackwatch, Oct 12, 2008.
  13. Ferrie H. The quackbusters. Vitality, May 2002.
  14. Barrett S. Who funds Quackwatch? Quackwatch, Jan 26, 2009.
  15. Guidelines for policy 720.01: Private school licensure in Alabama. Revised 2008.
  16. Diel S. Birmingham-based Internet college to close, blames economy. Birmingham News, July 10, 2010.
  17. Class-action complaint. Goldberg et al v. Clayton College of Natural Health, Inc., Magnolia Corporate
    Services, Inc., Lloyd Clayton, Jeff Goin, William Fishburne, and Kay Channell. U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Southern District, filed Nov 5, 2010.

This article was revised on July 23, 2011.