One candidate for state Senate District 17 earned a doctorate from a now defunct “diploma mill” and the other earned an undergraduate degree from an unaccredited Baptist university in Indiana.
Both candidates said they stand behind their degrees and the work they put in to obtain the titles.
Ron Sharp, a recently retired teacher at Shawnee Public Schools, will face Ed Moore, a former state senator and Baptist pastor, in the Republican primary runoff election Aug. 28.
There is no Democrat in the race so the winner takes office representing southern Oklahoma County and parts of Pottawatomie County including Shawnee.
“I did everything I could to make sure that that was not a problem,” said Sharp, who got his doctorate in education with an emphasis in political science from Kensington University in 1989.
The doctorate qualified him to receive a higher salary as a public school teacher.
Sharp said he was at first skeptical of the online program based in California, but he did his research and obtained prior approval for the program.
He provided The Oklahoman with letters from state education departments in Oklahoma and California ensuring him Kensington University was a recognized academic program.
“At the time I received my doctorate, the school had full institutional approval from the California Postsecondary Colleges and Universities to issue licensed degrees,” Sharp said.
School was later shut down
But seven years after Sharp, 60, obtained his doctorate, Kensington University was shut down in California with state regulators calling the program a fraud and a diploma mill.
Sharp said he worked very hard to obtain his degree and only went the route of using an online program so he wouldn't have to take time away from work to attend the University of Oklahoma, which required an on-campus presence at that time.
He received his undergraduate degree from Southeastern Oklahoma State University and a master's degree from Central State College (now the University of Central Oklahoma).
‘Just a private Bible school'
Meanwhile, candidate Moore, senior pastor at Pecan Valley Baptist Church in Newalla, received his degree from Hyles-Anderson College in Indiana.
The school is a nonaccredited religious institution that has existed since 1972.
“I went to a Bible college ... I've never pretended that it was anything but just a private Bible school,” Moore said.
He attended the school to become a minister, knowing the school had made a conscious decision not to be accredited.
“It was a hard-earned degree, and it never pretended to be anything but a seminary trained ministry,” Moore said.
It took him 3½ years to earn a four-year diploma, and he worked in a steel mill while he attended the school.
He has been a minister at Pecan Valley Baptist Church for the past 15 years, he said, and following his graduation went on a mission to establish a Baptist church in Australia.
The education he received at the school was extremely helpful as Moore went on to become a pastor, he said.
Accreditation can be complicated
Accreditation of higher education schools is done by a variety of private and public institutions and has become more complicated with the increase in for-profit schools and private colleges.
“All homeschool graduates, GED graduates and most private high school graduates receive an unaccredited degree. I was assured that accreditation was not a problem when I was working on my doctorate,” Sharp said. “I worked myself to death to get my doctorate, and I have demonstrated that knowledge in the classroom.”