WATERLOO -- The California-based president of an unaccredited distance education university has purchased the buildings of a former east-side Roman Catholic church and school, but has not made plans for the facilities public.
Henry L.N. Anderson of Los Angeles bought the property at East Parker and Fourth streets that contains Queen of Peace school and church, St. Mary's Villa, and the rectory. Black Hawk County real estate records show the property was sold to him for $475,500 on Dec. 29.
Anderson is president of City University Los Angeles. Through a real estate agent who handled the sale, Anderson declined to speak with the Courier. CULA's Web site says he earned a bachelor's degree from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania in 1957, a master's degree from Yale University in 1973 and a doctorate in education from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1972.
City University apparently has only an online presence in the United States. The one U.S. phone number for the university listed on the Web site rang unanswered in recent days.
Waterloo resident Frieda Weems, whom Anderson directed the Courier to contact about the sale, has not returned repeated phone calls. Weems' mother, Anna Mae, is listed on CULA's Web site as chairwoman of the Trustee Advisory Board. She also did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Queen of Peace School was closed last spring by Cedar Valley Catholic Schools. Services have not been held at the adjacent church for three years, following the consolidation of four parishes to form Queen of Peace. St. Mary's Villa senior citizen housing also closed sometime before the sale.
Although it remains unclear what Anderson plans on using the buildings for, real estate agents indicated he told Queen of Peace Church officials the property was being purchased for educational purposes.
If that use relates to City University Los Angeles, however, the institution's unaccredited status is a red flag for state officials.
Keith Greiner, research director and legislative liaison for the Iowa College Student Aid Commission, said post-secondary institutions from another state that locate in Iowa must register with the secretary of state. And in order to register, they need to be accredited.
Accreditation is done by private, non-governmental organizations that review the quality of higher education institutions and programs. Colleges and universities are accredited by one of 19 organizations recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education.
"If they don't have that, that's a stopping point," said Greiner, whose commission makes registration recommendations to the secretary of state.
Accreditation is the first of 13 criteria that must be met before the secretary of state registers a post-secondary institution to operate in Iowa. Although the U.S. Department of Education says accreditation is not necessary to be legitimate, it raises questions for Greiner when an institution lacks it.
"I think you'll find that education folks would say that accreditation is the standard if they're willing to hold themselves up as being an organization that people should use for their education," he said. "The purpose of accreditation when it was established was to have consumers have some understanding of whether (a post-secondary institution was) a quality place to go."
The registration law has kept out-of-state colleges and universities from proliferating in Iowa. Currently, there are "less than half a dozen" colleges or universities in the state that are headquartered outside of Iowa, Greiner said,
"The law was originally set up to discourage diploma mills," he added.
Diploma mills are institutions of higher of education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and thus grant diplomas that are fraudulent or worthless.
City University claims to have been accepted into membership of the Association of Accredited Private Schools in 1998. According to the university's Web site, it remains an institution in good standing with that association.
But the Association of Accredited Private Schools is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. For George Gollin, a member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation board of directors, this raises a host of questions about the legitimacy of City University Los Angeles.
"First, accreditation is not obligatory," said Gollin, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign physics professor who has been tracking diploma mills for the past four years. "Most legitimate universities seek accreditation, but not all of them.
"I would say that the fact that it claims accreditation by an accreditor that is not recognized … is extremely suspect," he said.
According to its Web site, City University Los Angeles was organized as a California post-secondary distance education institution in 1974. Its mission is "to provide culminating instruction through individualized study programs" to undergraduate, law and graduate students. The university serves adults whose higher education has been interrupted "because of mobility, scheduling and general inaccessibility."
A decade ago, City University Los Angeles left California to be incorporated in Alabama. A California Bureau for Private Post-Secondary and Vocational Education official said CULA closed in the state April 1, 1996. Documents from the Alabama secretary of state show it was incorporated in Mobile, Ala., Aug. 18, 1997.
Alabama has become a magnet for online colleges and universities, or "nonresident institutions."
"We were being identified because of the lax standards and because of the loopholes," said Margaret Gunter, director of communications for the Alabama Commission on Higher Education. The review and licensing process is being tightened up by the state Legislature to more effectively evaluate these institutions.
Gregory Fitch, the commission's executive director, said his agency does not even list City University Los Angeles as a nonresident institution because it chose an avenue that avoided the licensing process.
"The option is if you come in as a business, you can be incorporated in the state with a mailing address," he said. The only Alabama address listed on CULA's Web site, in Birmingham, is labeled "inactive."
Other listed U.S. addresses include post office boxes for the Office of Alumni Affairs in Los Angeles and the Office of the President in Nashville, Tenn. Also listed is an address in Athens, Ga., for Southern Information Services, which shows up as someone's home in an Internet search of phone records.
The U.S. phone number listed on the Web site can be traced to a suite at an Inglewood, Calif., address for Evaluations and Management International Inc., Anderson's California nonprofit organization. Thirty-two other offices are listed at the address from attorneys to financial services and even a college.
A U.S. Department of Education Web site on diploma mills urges caution when an institution provides "addresses that are box numbers or suites." The site explains, "That campus may very well be a mail drop box or someone's attic."
CULA claims to have a campus-based program in Gennep, The Netherlands, that held its first graduation ceremony in September 1998. The Web site also lists addresses or post office boxes in Rabat, Morocco; Lagos, Nigeria; Cairo, Egypt; Port of Spain, Trinidad; Madras, India; and Mt. Ommaney, Australia.
Gollin, of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation board, expressed other concerns with City University Los Angeles while examining its Web site.
It lists numerous bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees offered in schools of arts and sciences, religious studies, law and legal studies, and life, health and environmental sciences.
But an overview of the university's online catalog makes it clear that's not a complete list of what students can earn. It says: "CULA offers almost any degree to any qualified applicant."
"There are a large number of programs you cannot teach in an only-distance learning fashion," said Gollin, noting many science and technical fields require some lab work.
"I think their assertion that they can offer a legitimate degree in almost any field is not right."
The Web site also indicates CULA has an annual tuition rate -- rather than charging by credit hours, course or semester. The 2006 application for enrollment shows tuition ranging from $5,444 for a bachelor's degree to $7,667 for a doctorate.
Gollin said "a single payment associated with getting a degree" has always been one sign of a potential diploma mill.
"It's very suspicious," he said.
Contact Andrew Wind at (319) 291-1507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.