American World University (AWU) is an unaccredited educational institution that offers post-secondary distance learning education programs that has no physical campus. It also is awarding academic degrees. AWU was set up by Maxine Asher in 1990, and first was headquartered in Rapid City, South Dakota, until it was forced out of the state in 2000.
American World University has never received any accreditation from any U.S. recognized accrediting body, though it is listed as ‘accredited’ by WAUC (the World Association of Universities and Colleges), another organization set up by Maxine Asher.
AWU offers students the opportunity to earn college credit based on their life experience through distance education courses. The legitimacy of the school’s academic services are however disputed by many education professionals, and some say that academically, there’s nothing at AWU.
According to Ms. Asher, who passed away in 2015, the diploma mill that American World University is, has enrolled more than 7,000 students, including about 2,000 in China. In some countries, students attend classes rather than complete the entire program through distance education, she claimed, which is untrue. Tuition varies with the country, but students in the United States pay $1,800 per ‘degree’.
When they applied, students needed to submit transcripts and resumes, and Ms. Asher gave them credits toward their degrees for their life experience. All students completed some type of thesis or dissertation, she said, and papers were graded by ‘consultant faculty members.’ Students worked in their native languages, and instruction was entirely ‘individualized, she added. ‘If the guy lives in Indonesia, I’m not going to ask him to do a paper on Abraham Lincoln.’
Her university had had plenty of detractors. Her application for a license in Louisiana was rejected, and state law changes in Iowa and South Dakota prompted her to move the university repeatedly. The company was last based in Mississippi. In Hawaii, the state sued her for not stating clearly that American World University was not accredited by a U.S.-recognized accreditor. She lost a $250,000 judgment.
The Hawaii case was simply a silly vendetta, she claimed, since she never had any student from Hawaii. Indeed, fewer than 10 percent of her students came from the United States. About 1,000 were in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a couple of hundred were in Germany, and another hundred in South Korea, she said. She later signed up a new foreign representative to handle students in Sudan and Syria.
It was the apparent expectations of all those foreign students that scared away Alanna Shaikh. She was finishing a master’s degree in public health and living in Iowa City in 2000 when the employment agency she was working with assigned her to American World as an office temp.
At the time the business was housed in an office building there, sharing space with an H&R Block office and a manicurist. When Ms. Shaikh arrived, she found three desks and a conference room that seemed to be rarely used. She lasted just one day, making photocopies and doing some filing. At first, she says, the operation seemed “pretty sketchy.”
Ms. Asher had offered to hire her, Ms. Shaikh says, with a job grading papers and running the office: ‘She told me I just needed to read them and put some marks in the margins. She thought I could do the science papers as well.’ Read more fake university stories here.