In Albania, Can a U.S. Diploma Deliver?

Ann McClure's picture

Rising above the dingy back streets of the Albanian capital, the silhouette, instantly recognizable, shines out like a promise: the Statue of Liberty, symbol of America, land of opportunity — and also the logo of the University of New York, Tirana (U.N.Y.T.), where students pay more than $32,500 for what a sign in the lobby describes as “the only real European and American education” in the country.

On its elaborate Web site, U.N.Y.T. paints a glowing picture of students enjoying a typical American university experience — complete with student union, college sports, and campus social life — without having to ever leave Albania. Although known locally as “New York University-Tirana” — the name listed on its official charter from the Albanian government — the school has no connection with the campus in Greenwich Village. Nor does it have a dining hall, dormitories, gym, or stadium — the Web page covering sports has been “under construction” for more than a year. The photograph of a library, featured on the cover of the school’s handsomely printed brochure, was in fact taken elsewhere, school officials concede.

But the classes are in English. And thanks to an arrangement with the State University of New York this private Albanian institution does offer its 650 students the chance to acquire an American diploma. By paying the for-profit U.N.Y.T. an extra $100 per credit, for the first three years plus an additional $5,000 for the final year, students can graduate with a degree from Empire State College, a division of SUNY based in Saratoga Springs devoted to adult education and nontraditional learning.

Known by various labels — “validated” or “franchised” degrees, “supported programs,” or branch campuses — such arrangements between universities in the United States, Britain or Australia and various private providers in the developing world have become increasingly common.

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