At least 11 Georgia educators are under investigation for reportedly purchasing phony advanced degrees from an online university based in Liberia, officials with the state Professional Standards Commission say.

A two-month investigation found that the educators obtained doctorates and master’s degrees from St. Regis University, a school that investigators learned sells degrees without requiring any course work.

St. Regis, which claims to be recognized by the Liberian government, grants master’s degrees and doctorates based on “life experience,” according to the organization’s web site. A master’s degree costs $995 and a doctorate costs $1,500.

All but two of the educators in question purchased doctorates from St. Regis, boosting their salaries in each case by thousands of dollars.

Six of the accused teachers work in Gwinnett County, where the local school board might demand that the teachers repay the $29,702 they received in additional pay for their advanced degrees.

Several school board members have accused the teachers of fleecing the system, and some suggested the teachers should lose their jobs.

“Teachers get paid based on their years of experience and the type of degrees they’ve earned,” Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks told the Associated Press. “So if they’ve been paid on those degrees, that is going to have to be paid back.”

The investigation began after the Gordon County, Ga., superintendent alerted the state credentialing office about the degrees.

“We first found out about it from a superintendent who thought he had someone up in Gordon County who had purchased a degree,” said F.D. Toth, executive secretary of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. “When confronted, he admitted he had purchased the degree, and he voluntarily surrendered his certificate.”

A tip from a Gwinnett County teacher prompted Toth to expand the search to the 130,000 teachers in the state’s database.

A Georgia teacher with 10 years of experience, a bachelor’s degree, and a salary of $36,864 would earn $42,393 after earning a master’s degree and $53,173 after earning a doctorate, Toth said.

The Professional Standards Commission, which approved the teachers’ degrees last year, said it no longer would accept credits from St. Regis.

The commission informed the teachers their upgraded certification has been recalled. They also face sanctions if an ethics board finds they bought a degree they knew they did not earn.

In addition to the Gwinnett and Gordon County educators, teachers in Cobb and Clayton counties, an Atlanta school counselor, and a Ben Hill County school principal also face sanctions.

Educators should demonstrate a willingness to practice the same values of hard work and perseverance that they preach to students in the classroom, said Peggy Gaskill, director of the MS in Education program at Walden University, an online college with students in all 50 states. That value system is compromised whenever an instructor shells out cash for a degree he or she was supposed to have earned, Gaskill said.

Though Gaskill believes educators can receive the same quality of training online as they would through a traditional brick-and-mortar institution, she said they need to look closely at the credentials of the online program. School systems should not endorse any advanced degree programs that are not approved by a regionally accredited university, she added.

See these related links:

Georgia Professional Standards Commission

St. Regis University