Great Moments in Accreditation:
The Case of IAC, ACI, and The Three Stooges
In 1982, there opened for business in Missouri the International Accrediting Commission (IAC). They aggressively marketed their accreditation services among hundreds of then-unaccredited institutions in the United States. Their standards were rather modest, but they were operating within the law, and they were able to bestow that magical word "accredited" upon their clients.
More than 130 institutions had achieved IAC accreditation by 1989, when one Eric Vieth established the Eastern Missouri Business College and immediately applied to the International Accrediting Commission. Vieth opened his headquarters in a one-room office in St. Louis, Missouri, and issued an eight-page typewritten catalog that listed faculty members such as Arnold Ziffel, Edward J. Haskell, M. Howard, Jerome Howard, and Lawrence Fine.
Trivia buffs may recall that Arnold Ziffel was the pig on the TV show Green Acres, Eddie Haskell was the obsequious friend on Leave It to Beaver, and the Messrs. Howard, Howard, and Fine were collectively known as the Three Stooges.
It gets better. The college seal was emblazoned with the phrase Solum pro Avibus Est Educatio, which means "Education is only for the birds," and the motto was Latrocina et Raptus, or, loosely translated, everything from petty theft to highway robbery. Doctorates were offered by mail in dozens of fields, from aerospace to marine biology. The marine biology textbook was identified as The Little Golden Book of Fishes.
Unlike what you may have been imagining, Eastern Missouri Business College founder Vieth was wearing a white hat. As assistant attorney general for the state of Missouri, he had set up this clever sting operation. And when the head of the International Accrediting Commission stopped by, had a quick look around, accepted a cashier's check, and pronounced the East Missouri Business College fully accredited, he was immediately slapped with an injunction and was ultimately fined heavily and ordered to shut down his agency.
End of story? Sadly, no. Immediately after the closing of International Accrediting Commission, there opened, the next state over, in Beebe, Arkansas, the Accrediting Commission International (ACI), which immediately invited all of the IAC schools (except, presumably, Eastern Missouri Business) to become automatically accredited by ACI.
ACI is in business today, bigger than ever, accrediting over 250 institutions (I don't know how many more, since—incredibly—they decline to make their membership list public). Its operation appears to be legal in Arkansas. ACI also offers "certification" to any teacher working for any of the schools it accredits. Its Web site states:
This certification is not to be confused with State Teacher Certification. This is a vehicle to let our members know that a teacher is qualified in a certain field to teach subjects for our membership. Administrators may also be certified.
Certification is provided when a MEMBER institution requests it. We do not certify teachers who are not working for one of our members at the time they are certified. They may keep their certification if they leave the school, but only if they leave in good graces with the membership.
The teacher must furnish a request letter from the member school and a resume. If they have attended official classes at a college in their field they must furnish a transcript of credits. If they have been conferred a degree, a copy of the degree should also be submitted with the application. Please only send copies because we will not return them. The fee for teacher certification is $25.00 per year at all levels. The certificate must be renewed January 1 each year.
Meanwhile, well-meaning consumers, who have been trained to ask, "Is it accredited," reach for their checkbooks, because they don't know that they must ask the essential second question: "And is the accrediting agency recognized by the Department of Education or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation?"
John Bear is an author based in El Cerrito, California. For 12 years he was the FBI's principal consultant and expert witness on diploma mills and fake degrees. His books include Bear's Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning and College Degrees by Mail and Internet.
This article was revised on November 13, 2004.