Highlighting a growing regulatory problem in California, a Glendale correspondence university accused of offering shoddy academic programs has sidestepped a state closure order by transferring most of its programs--at least on paper--to Hawaii.
The move by Kensington University, a 20-year-old unaccredited private school which the state has been trying to close for two years, appears to put much of its operation beyond the reach of California authorities, even though the school's owner, main staff and headquarters will remain here.
"We're going to a far, far better place than we've ever been before," said Clive Grafton, president of both Kensington and its sister operation in Hawaii.
California is powerless to regulate Kensington's activities there, Grafton said. State officials concede he may be right.
Because Kensington is solely a correspondence school, the shift carried out in recent months meant little more than changing the enrollment status on paper of about two-thirds of Kensington's 600 students to Hawaii-based Kensington International University, Grafton said.
Kensington students, across the United States and abroad, still will do their work at home and mail papers and tests to the main Glendale office, at least for now, Grafton said. The only change for students will be that they will receive their bachelor's, master's or doctoral diplomas from Kensington International.
Since 1990 when a new law took effect in California substantially toughening the state's regulation of unaccredited, degree-granting schools, many--especially in the correspondence category--have relocated out-of-state.
State officials in Hawaii, which has virtually no regulation of such schools, said they have seen an influx of California institutions there in recent years. One official estimated the small state now has more than 100 such schools, about 40% of the 250 currently approved in California.
California law doesn't clearly define the state's authority over schools that relocate but maintain administrative facilities here and market programs here, officials said.
And, education officials around the country are encountering similar regulatory problems as schools increasingly offer so-called distance learning programs--via correspondence, cable television and even the Internet--where a school's physical location is no longer connected to its programs.
In Kensington's case, the school once reported that more than one-third of its students lived in California. But California's law only governs schools that offer educational services or degrees here. So if a school's headquarters and owners are here but not its programs, how does the law apply?
"This is a sticky area. I don't know how it's going to work out. It's a difficult issue," said Kenneth Miller, executive director of the state Council for Private Post-Secondary and Vocational Education, which approves and regulates unaccredited, degree-granting schools in California.
On one hand, Miller said he would be concerned if Kensington continues to have substantial activity in California despite the closure order. On the other hand, he said, so long as any degrees the school awards through Hawaii don't refer to California, then "maybe it's not our problem."
Miller confirmed that earlier this year, his agency began an investigation of an unspecified number of other relocated California schools.
In Kensington's case, the shift to Hawaii comes at the conclusion of a two-year legal fight with Miller's agency. A Superior Court order that went into effect June 6 stripped Kensington University of its right to operate educational programs in California. Thus, that school can no longer enroll any new students.
Anticipating that restriction, Grafton said the Glendale operation in recent months shifted on paper all of its academic programs and students to the Hawaii entity, except for its business and law programs. Thus, Kensington International in Hawaii can continue taking new students.
Kensington formed its Hawaii entity on Oahu in 1990. Today, Grafton said, the operation there consists solely of a two-person office. But Grafton said the school wants to develop a residential program there.
In Glendale, the school's business and law programs remain while it appeals the court ruling, but cannot accept new students, Grafton said. Meanwhile, California officials will decide whether those students can finish their work at Kensington or must transfer to other institutions.