[John Bear, author of popular distance learning guides, asked me to share this information with you. I had posted it on another distance learning discussion board.]
I happened on this site by a Google search, and read the entries regarding Universidad Empresarial de Costa Rica. Some of the entries are true, and some are not, as is much of the material about Empresarial on the Internet.
I graduated from Empresarial with a doctorate more than 10 years ago. At the time I enrolled, the programs for international students were in the International Postgraduate School of the University of San Jose (Costa Rica). That university declined to pursue further the concept of an International Postgraduate School. Those investors who did want to pursue the concept founded what became Universidad Empresarial de Costa Rica.
Empresarial's 1997 founding charter from the Costa Rican Ministry of Education broadly authorizes the university to grant academic degrees through the doctorate, but "authorizes" does not mean "approves." Under Costa Rican procedures, each degree in each discipline in a private university, like Empresarial, must be specifically approved by the Ministry to be valid for use within the country.
The Ministry has approved Empresarial, from its founding, to award bachelor's degrees in business administration and accounting and a master's degree in business administration. Many Costa Ricans have graduated from these residential programs. At my graduation ceremony, an undergraduate student received a full scholarship.
During my three years of study at Empresarial, the university made diligent efforts to attain approval to award doctorates, but their efforts were rebuked politically. Several doctoral candidates visited the Ministry and reviewed Empresarial's applications and the Ministry's replies; I assume they are still there more than 10 years later for anyone who wants to review them.
The doctoral programs were ostensibly marketed to non-Costa Ricans because the programs, though in review by the Ministry, had not been approved and would not be valid within the country. In Costa Rica, there is no half-way official designation for a private university degree as "Candidate for Accreditation." Although Empresarial was chartered by Costa Rica as a doctoral degree-granting university, it has never attained Costa Rican approval to award the doctoral degree.
At the time, however, I felt my program was solid and the criteria sound. Empresarial's doctoral degrees were evaluated as US regionally accredited by several evaluators, including Educational Credential Evaluators, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had also bought John Bear's popular and credible distance learning guides in which he recommended Empresarial without reservation.
Empresarial's campus, at the time of my studies, consisted of two enclaves. The first, in a middle income residential section of San Jose, had several one and two-story buildings, a large gymnasium, basketball court and soccer field. Two classrooms had state-of-the-art computers. One building was set aside as a small private elementary school used as a teaching laboratory. I met several members of the university staff, most of whom worked in the registrar's office. The second enclave was a relatively new multi-story classroom building with signage, and a cafeteria, located in a business district close to the center of San Jose. Photos of the main facilities were all on Empresarial's website, but the building in the business district was not -- and it was the best building among the two enclaves.
Empresarial wanted the Ministry to approve bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in many disciplines. For the doctorate, Empresarial relied on the British model of a research degree which was not used by any other university in Costa Rica (coursework plus a dissertation is the national standard). The university required a residency period of one to two weeks. Students were required to submit lengthy dissertation proposals, and to nominate someone with a reputable doctorate in the chosen field to serve as a local advisor and reviewer. Candidates whose dissertations were finalized had to defend them in person before a Tribunal of three doctors (one Empresarial's academic dean and the other two with doctorates from universities in Costa Rica). No Tribunal member then could hold any degree from Empresarial.
At the time, Empresarial was not only asking for many degree and subject approvals from the Ministry, it was also evident that political forces within the Ministry were against a model of distance education that existed no where else in Costa Rica -- and particularly from a small "upstart" university with little or no clout to persuade the Ministry otherwise. Several doctoral candidates from four countries, including me, expressed a concern that the university was seeking approval for too much, too soon.
For my studies, I chose for my local advisor an associate professor in my field from a major US state university. He had served on doctoral committees and was well-published. Empresarial approved my nomination of him. He had to approve all of my work before it was submitted to the university; for this he was to be paid US$600. My dissertation filled about 400 pages. My defense was held among other defenses, given in Spanish or English, for seven other candidates and was open to the public. I had received lengthy instructions on how my defense would be handled, what to expect, how to act, what to wear, and what audio-visual support materials would be available.
My defense was one of three scheduled for one evening. I followed a candidate who rambled, and who was warned several times that unless he put forth a better defense, he would be seated and fail his defense. In the end, after a 45-minute private deliberation in which the 40 or so in the room were asked to leave, he was barely passed (each defense received a numeric score) and allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony. He was, however, required to make significant changes to his dissertation before he could receive a transcript.
I rose for my defense, and stood before my Tribunal. It consisted of Dr. Rodolfo Benevides, Dr. Jose Alberto Cheves, and Dr. Winston Cannon. Cannon was then Empresarial's academic dean, and served more as a coordinator for the interrogation rather than as an inquisitor. Benevides and Cheves both had doctorates from the University of Costa Rica, were faculty members at other local universities, and were connected to the Ministry's evaluation of Empresarial's doctoral programs. My defense lasted about 40 minutes, then I answered questions for another 20 minutes. As I looked down at the copies of my dissertation held by Benevides and Cheves, I could see numerous handwritten notations.
At the time of my graduation, Empresarial was involved in partnerships with others outside the university to create veterinary and medical schools. By the fall of 2002, the small veterinary school (St. Francis) for Costa Ricans was running successfully and many felt Ministry approval was assured. The medical school (St. Jude, also a partnership medical school in Sabana) was headed by a prominent Costa Rican physician who was also head of one of San Jose's most popular private hospitals. Because Costa Rica's quality of medical care was quite high, the nation was a center for medical tourism, and with many Costa Rican physicians educated and board certified in the U.S., Canada, or Europe, it appeared Empresarial's goal of a medical school would also soon be realized.
Empresarial's governing board, for its role in the partnerships, had the university staff recruit medical students, including students from several nations, and posted photos given by its partners to post on its website of local hospitals where medical students would receive training. The local hospitals were never contracted to be training sites. The head of the medical school spent little on the program, and reportedly kept much of the money for himself and his co-conspirators. Medical students arrived to find wholly substandard instruction and facilities. The Ministry ordered the medical and veterinary schools closed. Costa Rican news media provided coverage of these events.
Empresarial's academic administration didn't recover. The university came under new academic leadership (and apparently some new investors) in 2004. A couple of foreign doctoral alumni tried to help Empresarial by designing solid distance learning programs and inter-articulation agreements with reputable universities in other countries. The strategy for the former was to work within the framework of academic business programs accredited by the highly regarded international Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). The strategy for the latter were if agreements with reputable foreign universities could be signed, then the Ministry might be likely to approve more programs for Empresarial. These donated efforts were eventually rebuked by Empresarial's new administration.
Foreign alumni were alarmed when the new president announced that all of Empresarial's prior diplomas and transcripts were voided, and that for a one-time fee, the university would issue "valid" diplomas and transcripts. The fee for a doctoral graduate was US$3,000. I did not participate. A doctoral degree-granting unit in Hong Kong soon appeared, with Empresarial's approval and without recognition by Hong Kong authorities. It was headed by Hong Kong locals who had dubious backgrounds that were easily researched on the Internet. Dissertation Tribunal members, both in Costa Rica and Hong Kong, began to hold Empresarial doctorates. I suspect, but cannot confirm, the decline of the quality of dissertations.
Empresarial for the first time began to award honorary degrees -- reportedly for a fee -- only to foreign diploma-seekers and several with questionable, if not hilarious, credentials. These people, easily found in Internet searches, had previously spent time and money accumulating vanity titles. German nationals who received these degrees were exposed in the German newspaper Spiegel Online in December 2008.
In April 2008 Empresarial signed a contract with Global Academy Online, a Washington, DC-based marketing firm for distance education programs, to publicize a "new" distance learning Spanish/English MBA. Neither Empresarial or Global Academy Online has released any additional information on this initiative since April 2008.
Global Academy Online's Washington, DC office, according to a 2006 article in Inside Higher Ed, is nothing more than a secretary shared among other organizations and individuals. The founder of Global Academy Online, based in the American Southwest, claims a "Grand PhD" from a European organization. He created a university in the US but registered it to award degrees in Serborga, a controversial self-proclaimed nation within Italy. He was involved with another US-based university also registered in Serborga. Degrees from both universities are illegal for graduates to use in a few US states.
The April 2008 news release claimed that Empresarial is "authorized to grant bachelors, masters, and soon professional specializations and doctoral degrees" [italics mine], but no one anywhere offered details on the last claim then or in the year since. In January 2009 Empresarial's president, in response to a complaint from a disgruntled student, claimed that "International education ... is controlled by international rules not local rules; locally we can teach other programs, not doctoral, but internationally is different." The university's website says the opposite: that Empresarial "offers the following graduate degree programs to the international and local community, [italics mine] by distance learning." The list of degrees that follows includes degrees in subjects not approved by the Ministry of Education.
Today, Empresarial's website has little information. There are no photos of facilities as before, no "real" students and faculty as before, no list of university leaders and faculty, and the page for listing classes is blank. Lofty goals are mentioned, including participation in a City of Knowledge and a Health Complex, and an Empresarial medical school for 2008 (last year). No mention is made on the site, or in Costa Rican news media, about Empresarial's progress towards any of those goals. The current president uses his Empresarial email address on another website for a personal business venture. Several people, including some online, have said he is arrogant and condescending.
As a result of these missteps, most foreign degree evaluators, including Educational Credential Evaluators, no longer issue equivalency certificates for any foreigner-only degrees issued by Empresarial. Some evaluators, relying on the current administration's shortcomings, have gone so far as to revoke equivalencies they previously gave to graduates.
For me, an Empresarial doctorate from "the old days" has not handicapped me, although I obtained it primarily for corporate and not for educational employment. My employer urged me to study outside of North America, in a foreign culture. I have taught part-time occasionally with my doctorate, including graduate courses at accredited universities, and currently teach part-time at a major Canadian university. My old equivalency certificate from Educational Credential Evaluators has certainly helped, but the largest reason for acceptance of the doctorate has been my dissertation and the reputation of my local advisor.
I am, of course, saddened to learn of the decline of Empresarial because it dilutes the perception of the worth of my degree. I know that several good doctoral graduates of years ago with good dissertations are embarrassed, and no longer claim to have Empresarial doctorates. I remain convinced that my choice of Empresarial more than a decade ago was a good decision because I then had few options.
The three persons I was most involved with in my doctoral studies -- my local advisor and Empresarial's former academic dean and president -- all remain active in education. The former president, who sadly and incorrectly was maligned on the Internet as a international fugitive, is today the director of international affairs for a large government-accredited, well-respected, doctoral degree-granting university in the Caribbean.
I am not optimistic about Empresarial's distance learning future. In the absence of any credible, positive information, I fear the worst. I hope that I can be proven wrong, and that the university's distance learning programs will be rehabilitated. In the meantime, however, until more of Empresarial's degrees and subject areas appear on the Costa Rican Ministry of Education approved list, I do not recommend a distance learning degree from this university.
For those seeking a graduate distance learning degree from Costa Rica, the current best choice, academically and financially, is the state-sponsored Universidad Estatal a Distancia. Founded in 1977, it has now matured to offer 22 master's degrees and four doctoral degrees.
I only registered for this site to make this one post, and under a nom de plume to protect my privacy. I hope that you will find this post informative and useful.