Saturday, December 10, 2011

Great News! Online College! Spelling Optional! Funding? That's an Open Question

I just received a breathless email from Na' announcing the opening of Na'aleh College, "recognized and licensed by the State of Florida." I guess it was really only a matter of time until Jews got into the online college game. After all, people need degrees, and why not offer them in the easiest manner possible. I'm not entirely sure what the point is - be it to make a little cash for the site, or just to draw people in offering them degrees to get them to learn Judaic studies. After all, the college's fee page states that Na'aleh College, "will offer a grant to the first three students who attend Naaleh and complete the Judaic Studies program. 
I took a few moments to peruse their site and would like to share a few observations.

1. Money: I happily noted that, "The institution is currently not eligible for state or federal financial aid." That's good, and I hope that it stays that way. Far far too many Jewish institutions currently exist solely to extract eligible Pell Grant money from frum Jews who have no intention of attending a real college, so they "enroll" in a scam school while studying in Yeshiva, and then share the money (usually splitting it) with the "accrediting" school. This is going on as we speak in far too many yeshivot, and will be, I believe, the next big Orthodox scandal. (This will make cheating on the SAT look tame in comparison. When the frum world looks back and laments how ostensibly religious people can commit such despicable acts of fraud, if not outright theft, don't say I didn't warn you. Really.) Although I wonder about Na'aleh College. On its "licensure" page, the college states that,
Naaleh College does not have regional accreditation yet.  Once Naaleh College has been functioning for two years we will be eligible for accreditation by a regional accrediting body.  This will enable Naaleh College students to receive federal grants and loans to help pay for college.
Not promising. Not at all. (Oh, and when I clicked on the link to see the college's license, it just brought me to the same page. I hope that they really do have a license.)

2. Faculty: As of today, the only two faculty members listed on the site are Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller and Mrs. Shira Smiles. Now, don't get me wrong. These women are well-known for their erudition and educational prowess. At the same time, the school is offering degree granting programs in: Business Management, Computer Information (Associates Degree and Bachelor’s Degree), Graphic Design (Associates Degree), Judaic Studies (Bachelor’s Degree) and Master Torah Route, and Psychology (Bachelor’s Degree). Perhaps they may need to add some additional staff.

3. Marketing: In the introductory email I noticed a small error:
"Independant?" Really?
I'm all for online learning. Many colleges offer online degree programs, and I'm not convinced that you learn less online (if it's a rigorous course). I love the web yeshiva - which even allows for student interaction, and even teach at an online teachers college here in Israel. Maybe Na'aleh College is a great idea. But the site says that "courses begin on Jan. 9th." Perhaps the dean, provost, college president and the rest of the staff should take a bit more time and make sure that all their ducks were really in order. And the Orthodox community should make it clear to the Na'aleh operators that it will not tolerate another quasi-legal enterprise whose sole goal is to find less-than-honest ways for the American government to fund Torah learning. 
Torah is great. Online learning is great too. But gaining questionable accreditation to receive Pell Grants to support Torah study doesn't help anyone "ascend". Instead, it drags us all down, in the form of massive, international Chillul Hashem.