Evangelist Joyce Meyer Claims Earned PhD from Life Christian University, Missouri Law Forbids Use of False and Misleading Degrees

Life Christian University claims to provide earned degrees to “distinguished degree holders” who get PhDs based on their written works and ministry experience. At least some of those people portray them as earned academic degrees. Joyce Meyer is one of those degree holders.

Meyer, who is based in Fenton, MO, refers to the degree as an “earned PhD in theology” (in contrast to two honorary doctorates) on her website (see also here and here):
Joyce Meyer ministry PhD
She also recorded a video where she said she was a graduate of LCU. Watch:

Given what LCU says about the degrees on the school website and what founder and president Douglas Wingate said recently in a television interview, Meyer didn’t attend LCU and was given the degree without doing doctoral studies.

In Missouri, it is a class C misdemeanor to use a false or misleading degree. The law states:

Unlawful use false or misleading degree, when–violation, penalty.

173.754. 1. It is unlawful for a person to knowingly use or attempt to use, in connection with admission to any institution of higher education or in connection with any business, employment, occupation, profession, trade, or public office:
(1) A false or misleading degree from any institution of higher education, regardless of whether that institution is located in Missouri and regardless of whether the institution has been issued a certificate of approval or temporary certificate of approval by the board; or
(2) A degree from any institution of higher education in a false or misleading manner, regardless of whether that institution is located in Missouri and regardless of whether the institution has been issued a certificate of approval or temporary certificate of approval by the board.
2. For the purposes of this section, a degree is false or misleading or is used in a false or misleading manner if it:
(1) States or suggests that the person named in the degree has completed the requirements of an academic or professional program of study in a particular field of endeavor beyond the secondary school level and the person has not, in fact, completed the requirements of the program of study;
(2) Is offered as his or her own by a person other than the person who completed the requirements of the program of study; or
(3) Is awarded, bestowed, conferred, given, granted, conveyed, or sold in violation of this chapter.
3. The penalty for a violation of this section shall be a class C misdemeanor.
4. For purposes of this section, the term “board” shall mean the coordinating board for higher education.
(L. 2009 H.B. 62) (emphasis added)

A degree is false and misleading if a person claims an earned doctorate but did not complete a program of study. According to Wingate, Meyer and her fellow degree holders didn’t attend LCU but got an “earned PhD” in consideration for their “published works, along with their lifetime ministry achievements.” Meyer implies she earned it and graduated. Since her ministry is her occupation and business, I suspect this law applies to her and the other distinguished degree holders in MO (Billye Brim and Larry Ollison).

The remedy is easy. Just stop referring to the degree as earned. What LCU has done is award honorary degrees and they are allowed to do so, but, in some states, the recipients of those degrees aren’t allowed to deceive the public with them.  Missouri is one of those states.

When I contacted the MO Department of Higher Education, a spokesperson told me that the Department does not have investigative or enforcement authority related to this statute. Instead, she said complaints could be directed to the Attorney General’s office. A spokesperson for the AG’s office confirmed that a consumer complaint begins the process of investigation and enforcement.

Note to Life Christian University: Use of False or Misleading Degrees is Illegal in Some States

Triggered by my research into Life Christian University, I have discovered that some states make it illegal to use degrees from unaccredited schools or degrees which are not based on actual academic work. This post provides a look at Nevada’s law which requires evidence that work was done to get a degree. I start with this one because it addresses degrees which are awarded based on life experience. Here is the law:

NRS 394.700  Prohibition; penalty.

      1.  It is unlawful for a person knowingly to use or attempt to use:

      (a) A false or misleading degree or honorary degree conferred by a private entity, regardless of whether that entity is located in this State and regardless of whether that entity is authorized to operate in this State; or

      (b) A degree or honorary degree conferred by a private entity in a false or misleading manner, regardless of whether that entity is located in this State and regardless of whether that entity is authorized to operate in this State,

in connection with admission to any institution of higher education or in connection with any business, employment, occupation, profession, trade or public office.

      2.  Unless a greater penalty is provided by specific statute, a person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not more than $5,000 or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 6 months, or by both fine and imprisonment.

      3.  In addition to any criminal penalty imposed pursuant to subsection 2, a person who violates the provisions of this section is subject to a civil penalty in an amount not to exceed $5,000 for each violation. The Attorney General or any district attorney of this State may recover the penalty in a civil action brought in the name of the State of Nevada in any court of competent jurisdiction.

      4.  For the purposes of this section, a degree or honorary degree is false or misleading or is used in a false or misleading manner if it:

      (a) States or suggests that the person named in the degree or honorary degree has completed the requirements of an academic or professional program of study in a particular field of endeavor beyond the secondary school level and the person has not, in fact, completed the requirements of the program of study;

      (b) Is offered as his or her own by a person other than the person who completed the requirements of the program of study; or

      (c) Is awarded, bestowed, conferred, given, granted, conveyed or sold:

             (1) Based upon more than 10 percent of the recipient’s documented life experience and not based upon actual completion of academic work;

             (2) By a person or entity located in this State in violation of this chapter, as determined by the Commission; or

             (3) By a person or entity located outside this State which would be a violation of this chapter if the person or entity were located in this State, as determined by the Commission. (emphasis added)

      5.  As used in this section:

      (a) “Degree” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 394.620.

      (b) “Honorary degree” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 394.620.

Joyce Meyer, David Barton and the other Life Christian University “distinguished degree holders” should be careful when in Nevada. According to Douglas Wingate, the PhDs given to “distinguished degree holders” are given solely in consideration of their life and ministry experience. Nevada forbids that kind of degree to be used in the state. If more than 10% of the work for a degree is based on life experience, it is considered “false or misleading.” Even honorary degrees cannot be portrayed as having been earned. Clearly, the definition of “earned degree” as used by LCU would be considered false and misleading in Nevada.

I am compiling a list of states which penalize the improper use of degrees and applying those findings to some of “distinguished degree holders.” Stay tuned.

Life Christian University and the Federal Definition of a Diploma Mill

Life Christian University is a school in Lutz, FL which awarded what school founder Douglas Wingate calls “earned degrees” to “big name” preachers who never attended the school. Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, and a host of other “distinguished degree holders” were given PhD degrees in recognition of their work. According to LCU, these degrees are earned.
Additionally, LCU’s requirements for a bachelor’s degree are much lower than at an accredited school. LCU doesn’t match the state requirements on how many hours a person should attend classes to get a degree.
LCU’s accreditation is with a group — Accreditation Commission International — that has a checkered past and allows LCU to simply add branch campuses without an accreditation visit. In fact, LCU switched to ACI for that reason. ACI is not recognized by the Department of Education as an acceptable accreditation body.
Now let’s look at the federal definition of a diploma mill:

‘‘(20) DIPLOMA MILL.—The term ‘diploma mill’ means an entity that—
‘‘(A)(i) offers, for a fee, degrees, diplomas, or certificates, that may be used to represent to the general public that the individual possessing such a degree, diploma, or certificate has completed a program of postsecondary education or training; and ‘‘(ii) requires such individual to complete little or no education or coursework to obtain such degree, diploma, or certificate; and
‘‘(B) lacks accreditation by an accrediting agency or association that is recognized as an accrediting agency or association of institutions of higher education (as such term is defined in section 102) by— ‘‘(i) the Secretary pursuant to subpart 2 of part H of title IV; or ‘‘(ii) a Federal agency, State government, or other organization or association that recognizes accrediting agencies or associations.

LCU’s degrees require much less work for achievement of a bachelor’s than the law demands for a traditional bachelor’s. And as we have learned, some degree recipients have an “earned degree” for no work whatsoever. LCU’s accrediting body (ACI) is not recognized by the Secretary or any other entity named in the law.
Let me be clear, LCU students do attend classes (3 hours/week). However, it would take about 12 years to get a degree at an accredited school while it only takes them 4 years and less if the degree is earned online. The PhD degrees to the distinguished degree holders are the main indicator of a diploma mill. These are given to people who don’t even attend the school.
For more on LCU, read these posts.
UPDATE: The state of Missouri responded to my complaint about Joyce Meyer’s fraudulent LCU degree. She has since started calling it an honorary degree.

What Happens When You Claim an Earned PhD but Don't Have One?

The same fellow who hosted at least one U.S. Senator and two U.S. Representatives at his pastors’ briefing Monday and Tuesday has gone silent about his “earned PhD.” David Barton, viewed by many on the Christian right as a competent historian, came out on September 7 with a video scolding progressives for questioning the claim that Barton has an earned PhD. On the video, he didn’t identify the school where he received the doctor’s degree. From the video, it appears to be Life Christian University.
It seems likely that Barton did not attend the school but was given the degree by LCU for his lifetime of accomplishments. Other “big name preachers” received what was labeled “earned PhDs?” in recognition of writing a lot of books and preaching many sermons.
Curious, I looked for instances of people impersonating a PhD. It seems like fraud to me but I wanted to see what happened in the real world.
Here are some examples:
This PA administrator lost his job
Salary adjusted lower
Public school teacher resigned
Principal reassigned
College professor fired and tried for fraud
MIT Admissions Director had to resign
Christian legal group sues UCLA over academic fraud
Principal fired
Analyst fired from Institute of War
Professor fired and indicted for fraud
Army statistician fired over fraudulent graduate degrees
Here’s a book on the subject.
Barton has been quiet for a week about it but this matter won’t go away.

Florida’s Commission for Independent Education Should Reconsider Life Christian University’s Exemption from Licensure

As a religious school in Florida, Life Christian University is not required to obtain a license from the FL Commission on Independent Education if the school adheres to five requirements. Each year, exempt schools must file a sworn affidavit to the Commission and if accepted, the Commission will issue an exemption letter. According to the Commission website, LCU has received a letter of exemption.

Having reviewed the state requirements and LCU’s website and materials, I am of the opinion that the Commission should reconsider the exemption.
First, the requirements for an exemption are spelled out in FL Form 113 – Application for Religious Institution Letter of Exemption. One may also review these in FL law. In chapter 1005 of the FL statutes, rules are spelled out for colleges not under the jurisdiction of the Commission. The section on religious colleges (1005.06 – 1.f) begins: “A religious college may operate without governmental oversight if the college annually verifies by sworn affidavit to the commission that…” See the image below for the requirements:
FL LCU Affidavit
LCU clearly conforms with points 1 and 2. The school name has a religious modifier and the programs are religious in nature. LCU appears to meet the requirements in point 3. However, I cannot verify this since I have not seen transcripts or any of the diplomas up close. In the pictures of “distinguished degree holders” and David Barton’s video, it is not clear how the degrees are labeled.

LCU does not appear to meet the requirements of points 4 and 5. The rest of the post provides evidence for my opinion.

Duration of Degree Programs

LCU’s course schedule for 2016-2017 lays out the schedule Bachelor’s students are expected to follow for the first years. The fourth year allows some flexibility for specialization. Each year is the same in that 9 three credit hour courses are required along with a three hour practicum experience to make up a total of 30 semester hours. At the end of four years, student following the program accumulate 120 credits to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree.

Classes are held in three hour blocks on Monday nights. Three credits are awarded for 12 clock hours of class time. LCU’s website spells it out.

What are the course requirements?

Each 3-credit-hour course meets for 3 clock-hours once per week. Over a period of 4 weeks, the required 12 clock-hours of class time is accumulated. You should allow for at least two 10-minute breaks during each 3-hour class session.

LCU course schedule plus
According to LCU’s course schedule, it only takes four weeks of meeting three hours/week to complete 3 semester hours. This means that each credit requires only 4 hours of class time. In the image above, one can see that students attend school three hours on Monday night and take one class at a time. Students are credited with 3 semester hours for those 12 hours of attendance. As I will demonstrate, this is significantly less than state law requires. According to point 4 in the law, even exempt schools must match degree duration requirements.

According to the affidavit (see above), the rules for degree duration are detailed in the FL Administrative Code Rule 6E-2.004(4).

The duration of all degree programs offered by the institution is consistent with the standards of the Commission for Independent Education as set forth in Rule 6E- 2.004(4), F.A.C.

Section 4 of Rule 6E-2.004 is a long section dealing with the requirements for licensed colleges under the Commission. According to the affidavit, the only applicable standard for a religious school is that the duration of degrees is consistent with these guidelines. The rules lay out guidelines for associates degrees through doctorates. For our purposes, I will focus on the Bachelor’s degree. Here are the guidelines for an acceptable Bachelor’s degree.

(p) The following instructional program standards apply to bachelor’s degrees: 1. Program specifications: The credential offered shall be the Bachelor of Science Degree, Bachelor of Arts Degree, or other baccalaureate degree title considered by the Commission to be appropriate and not misleading. The duration of the program shall be a minimum of 120 semester credit hours, 180 quarter credit hours, or the recognized clock hour equivalent. The required general education component for a Bachelor of Science degree shall be a minimum of 30 semester credit hours, 45 quarter credit hours, or the recognized clock hour equivalent. The required general education component for the Bachelor of Arts degree shall be a minimum of 45 semester credit hours, 67.5 quarter credit hours, or the recognized clock hour equivalent. The general education requirements for other bachelor’s degrees shall be appropriate to the specific degree. Applied general education shall not be utilized to fulfill this requirement. All general education courses must meet the definition given in subsection 6E-1.003(38), F.A.C. Unless otherwise required by the accrediting agency, a minimum of 15 of the required general education credit hours or the recognized clock hour equivalents must be obtained at the bachelor’s level.

In bold print above, the duration for a Bachelor’s degree is specified as 120 semester credit hours, 180 quarter hours or the recognized clock hour equivalent. LCU does require 120 credit hours but those credits do not meet state guidelines for a semester hour. For the state definition of a semester credit hour, we go to definitions section of Rule 6E (page 4 of the linked document)

(55) “Semester Credit Hour” means either:
(a) A unit consisting of a minimum of fifteen hours of instruction appropriate to the level of credential sought, during a semester, plus a reasonable period of time outside of instruction which the institution requires a student to devote to preparation for learning experiences, such as preparation for instruction, study of course material, or completion of educational projects; or

(b) Planned learning experiences equivalent to the learning and preparation described in paragraph 6E-1.003(55)(a), F.A.C., above, as determined by duly qualified instructors responsible for evaluating learning outcomes for the award of credits.

Section 55(b) may be a loophole for LCU. However, according to the LCU FAQs, students only have to read at minimum 250 pages per course (less than most textbooks) and do four papers in an entire year. I think 55(b) is meant to include independent studies which are normally conducted outside of a formal classroom but are “equivalent” to the 15 clock hours of instruction described in section 55(a).

Florida’s duration requirement for one semester credit hour is 15 clock hours. LCU requires 12 clock hours to receive 3 credits which comes out to 4 clock hours per semester credit hour. LCU students are scheduled for 108 clock hours/year which comes out to 7.2 semester credit hours/year. Adding in the 3 semester credit hour practicum and students are getting the equivalent of just over 10 semester credit hours/year. At that pace, it could take about 12 years to complete a degree using state degree duration guidelines.

I don’t think LCU should swear that they meet the state’s degree duration requirements.

Consumer Practices and Advertising

Point five in the affidavit is:

The institution’s consumer practices are consistent with those required by s1005.04 in FL law.

That section is reproduced here:

1005.04 Fair consumer practices.

(1) Every institution that is under the jurisdiction of the commission or is exempt from the jurisdiction or purview of the commission pursuant to s. 1005.06(1)(c) or (f) and that either directly or indirectly solicits for enrollment any student shall:

(a) Disclose to each prospective student a statement of the purpose of such institution, its educational programs and curricula, a description of its physical facilities, its status regarding licensure, its fee schedule and policies regarding retaining student fees if a student withdraws, and a statement regarding the transferability of credits to and from other institutions. The institution shall make the required disclosures in writing at least 1 week prior to enrollment or collection of any tuition from the prospective student. The required disclosures may be made in the institution’s current catalog;
(b) Use a reliable method to assess, before accepting a student into a program, the student’s ability to complete successfully the course of study for which he or she has applied;
(c) Inform each student accurately about financial assistance and obligations for repayment of loans; describe any employment placement services provided and the limitations thereof; and refrain from promising or implying guaranteed placement, market availability, or salary amounts;
(d) Provide to prospective and enrolled students accurate information regarding the relationship of its programs to state licensure requirements for practicing related occupations and professions in Florida;
(e) Ensure that all advertisements are accurate and not misleading;
(f) Publish and follow an equitable prorated refund policy for all students, and follow both the federal refund guidelines for students receiving federal financial assistance and the minimum refund guidelines set by commission rule;
(g) Follow the requirements of state and federal laws that require annual reporting with respect to crime statistics and physical plant safety and make those reports available to the public; and
(h) Publish and follow procedures for handling student complaints, disciplinary actions, and appeals.
(2) In addition, institutions that are required to be licensed by the commission shall disclose to prospective students that additional information regarding the institution may be obtained by contacting the Commission for Independent Education, Department of Education, Tallahassee. History.s. 247, ch. 2002-387; s. 45, ch. 2004-41.

Since I am not privy to all of the materials given to students or professors, I can only evaluate letter (e). Given what I have learned about their degree duration, I don’t think LCU reasonably passes that standard.
One problem is labeling honorary doctorates as “earned degrees.” The degrees LCU has given to “big name preachers” who did not even attend cannot be considered earned.

LCU’s self-description is quite misleading:

LCU is rapidly becoming known as one of the premiere ministry universities in the world. With its quality program, miraculous growth rate and great number of prominent and distinguished ministers who have chosen LCU for recognition of their academic work, a degree from LCU is one of the most prestigious degrees available.

Given the fact that the school doesn’t meet the state degree duration requirements, the following self-description is especially misleading:

Meeting & Exceeding State Requirements

Life Christian University has fulfilled rigorous educational requirements in our determination to acquire and maintain a quality educational program. LCU is a state-authorized school, recognized by the Florida Department of Education’s Commission for Independent Education, having fully met and exceeded the requirements of state law. Additionally, in each of the many states where LCU has campuses, we have met and exceeded the requirements of their State Departments of Education as well.

According to the rule above, LCU should explain that the school is exempt from most requirements and is not licensed. Clearly, the school does not meet the requirements of state law when it comes to amount of instruction required to assign semester credit hours.

Finally, for IRS purposes, LCU is a church and exempt from the requirement to file a 990 form. Perhaps this is common with unaccredited schools, but there is no hint in any of the educational materials I have seen that LCU is a church. This too seems misleading.

In a future post, I plan to discuss the accrediting body used by LCU.

Previous posts regarding LCU:
Is David Barton’s PhD from Life Christian University?
David Barton Removed His PhD Video
Life Christian University’s Distinguished Degree Holders Did Not Attend the School