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What’s more, 38 universities in the United States and Canada have accepted transfer credits for the class from Touro, meaning students may be effectively substituting advocacy for rigorous learning at colleges from coast to coast.
Shore would not provide the Forward with a list of the universities that accept the credits. He did connect the Forward with a George Washington University student who said she was approved to receive credit for the Israel Inside/Out course.
George Washington University officials declined to explain why they granted credit for the Jerusalem Online U course, saying they could not comment on individual student records.
However, the credibility of Touro, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, seemed to play a role. A GWU academic advisor said in an email: “[Touro] is accredited by Middle States as is George Washington University. When reviewing transfer courses we do not make the distinction between online or traditional classroom classes.”
According to Malcolm Brown, director of learning initiatives at Educause, a group that advocates for technology in education, universities tend to prioritize institutional credibility over course content when reviewing transfer credits.
“That is the only way this will possibly work,” he said. “If you have to in each instance make sure it was taught properly, that would be hundreds and hundreds of reviews. That would not be a practical approach. You rely on your collegial organizations to uphold the same standards you are.”
Brown emphasized that he could not address the academic legitimacy of Touro’s relationship with Jerusalem Online U. But he termed the phenomenon of an accredited college partnering with an advocacy agency to produce a course “somewhat unusual.”
“As you know higher ed tends to be more academic in the sense of being research and scholarly, and that doesn’t work well with advocacy all the time,” Brown said.
Because online education is in its nascent stage, standards are still being developed. In recent years, there has been a push for accrediting institutions to scrutinize online offerings with the same eye it turns to classroom education. Touro’s accrediting agency, for instance, has a set of protocols for online, or “distance” education so that the online programs adhere to the academic goals of the institutions.
Middle States said it would review any complaints about the class, but had received none.
Touro is at the beginning of a multi-year review process for reaccreditation by Middle States. After doing an internal self-study, the institution will be visited by a group of reviewers from peer institutions, one of whom will examine Touro’s online offerings. This process will likely be completed in 2015.
Contact Naomi Zeveloff at firstname.lastname@example.org