Non-accredited diploma worthless for Arizona woman

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You've seen them on TV. Commercials promising to 'jump start your career', and 'set you on the path to your future.' The ads for post-secondary schools invite you to learn a trade or vocation, but beware: some of the offers can be misleading.

Jessica Klingbeil lives in Young, Arizona with her family. She dropped out of high school after becoming pregnant at the age of 16.

“I was kind of like well you know looking at my future and how am I going to provide for this baby?” Klingbeil explained.

Several years ago, a letter from Stratford Career Institute showed up in the mail, so Jessica decided to enroll for her high school diploma.

“Their monthly payment plan was pretty simple, it was just $38 a month, and I ended up paying a total of $589, for nothing,” Klingbeil said.

Months from completing the necessary courses, Jessica tried applying to Arizona State University only to find out her diploma would hardly be worth the paper it was printed on.

“I asked her, is this true? Is it really a non-accredited diploma? She said, ‘oh yeah,’ like it was nothing to her and I was just kind of in shock,” Klingbeil said.

“There is no control over the word school,” Maria Allison explains.

Allison is ASU’s accreditation officer, and says while there are plenty of accredited, post-secondary schools out there, many are just chasing your checkbook.

“They can just appear and just as quickly disappear and you think you're getting a credential that will be long lasting and respected when in fact you're getting nothing,” Allison said.

There are actually 6 accrediting bodies across the country determining whether a school meets certain standards set by the U.S. Department of Education. ASU is a fully-accredited university.

“To maintain accreditation, you go through a re-accreditation process of your ability to meet standards of performance,” Allison said.

Allison urges those considering enrollment at a post-secondary school to do their homework before forking over any funds.

As for Jessica, who loves being a mom, she remains determined to get her high school diploma, and hopes to one day realize her goal of becoming a teacher at her children's school.

“No, it’s definitely not going to stop me,” Allison said, “I'm still pursuing and talking to schools right now that are accredited and that was my first question to them, 'Are you accredited?'”

So far, Stratford Career Institute has refunded about $150 to Jessica.

The most comprehensive list of accredited schools in the country can be found on the U.S. Department of Education’s website,  www.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/index.html.

Learn more about post-secondary schools at www.advanc-ed.org/about_us/state_offices/postsecondary/.

Learn more about the accreditation process at www.advanc-ed.org/accreditation/.