Auditor candidate defends degree

A candidate for Island County auditor received his master’s degree online from an unaccredited institution.

Jim Palmer, a Republican from Oak Harbor, said he recently heard that people supporting his rival have been spreading rumors that he has a degree from a so-called “diploma mill.” Palmer is running against fellow Republican and Oak Harbor resident Sheilah Crider.

It turns out there is some truth to the rumor, though Palmer has never heard him alma mater labeled as a diploma mill before. The term usually refers to businesses that sell degrees and require very little or substandard academic study, which he said doesn’t apply to his experience.

“I’ve never tried to mislead anyone. I always made it clear that my degree was from Kennedy-Western,” he said, opening a box of textbooks he studied for his courses.

Palmer received both his undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in business administration from Kennedy-Western University, which changed its name to Warren National University last year. Palmer earned both degrees completely online over a four-year period ending in 2003.

Palmer explained that his sole purpose in pursuing the degrees was to earn his certification from the Institute of Business Appraisers. He was a single parent of two kids running two businesses at the time.

“Needless to say, I didn’t have time to drive down to Seattle every day,” he said.

At the time, there were few choices for online post-secondary education. He knew that Kennedy-Western wasn’t accredited, which gave him pause. But when he found out that the Institute of Business Appraisers would accept a degree from Kennedy-Western, he signed on.

“If it was a decade later, I probably would have gone to WSU,” he said.

Palmer said he was generally pleased with the quality of the classes and felt he learned quite a bit in the more advanced courses. He investigated the professors and found they had advanced degrees from other universities. Pastor David Lura of First United Methodist Church was his proctor and supervised him during essay tests.

“My sense of looking at the coursework, and certainly knowing Jim and knowing his integrity and honesty, is that the academics were appropriate for his profession,” Lura said, adding that Palmer’s guidance to him in matters of business were above reproach.

Kennedy-Western made the news in 2004 after the U.S. General Accounting Office investigated federal employees who had degrees from unaccredited universities on their resumes. Kennedy-Western was criticized for allowing students to gain credits for “life experience.”

The use of degrees from unaccredited institutions is restricted or barred in many states, including Washington.

On the other hand, faculty members said they used the same textbooks and administered the same rigorous exams offered in traditional colleges, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

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