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Town confirming degrees obtained by all its officers.

Byline: J.P. Ellery

WEST BROOKFIELD - The term "online college degree" has taken on added significance here since the recent controversy leading to the resignation of police Sgt. Brice I. Leslie.

It turns out that Police Chief C. Thomas O'Donnell Jr. and Sgt. William F. Lynch also have online college degrees. Chief O'Donnell has a master's degree in criminal justice via Boston University's online program. Sgt. Lynch has an associate's degree in criminal justice from Western International University of Phoenix in Arizona, which is affiliated with Phoenix University's online program.

Mr. Leslie said he had a master's degree in criminal justice from Shelburne University in Dublin, Ireland, a degree that subsequently was called bogus because Shelburne University is said to be a diploma mill selling degrees for a price. His bachelor's degree from Worcester State College also was questioned because college officials reported that Mr. Leslie never graduated from there.

After questions surfaced over Mr. Leslie's educational background, the Board of Selectmen directed Chief O'Donnell to certify the degrees obtained by himself, Sgt. Leslie, Sgt. Lynch and Officer Charles H. Laperle.

Mr. Leslie's degrees remain unsubstantiated and documentation will no longer be pursued because he resigned, Chief O'Donnell said yesterday.

The chief's degree has been certified by Boston University and Officer Laperle's associate's degree in liberal arts has been certified by Assumption College in Worcester. Officer Laperle attended the college for that degree.

Sgt. Lynch recently wrote to Western International University and expects certification of his degree to be supplied soon.

On their Web sites, Phoenix University and Western International University state that they are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

The Telegram & Gazette contacted the commission office in Chicago yesterday

and verified the accreditation.

Sarah Mealey, associate director of communications for the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, confirmed that the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools is approved by the federal government.

Going the online-degree route was the best and easiest option, Sgt. Lynch said.

"It kept me available for here (the West Brookfield Police Department) because I didn't have a scheduled class," the sergeant said. "What they do is you have scheduled assignments. You have reading material you have to cover and you have papers that you have to do."

He said that once that material is submitted to the university, online students are graded, the same as any other student.

"It is not cheap," Sgt. Lynch said. "Each three-credit course that I took was almost $800. By the time I finished up my associate's degree, I was in the hole with student loans to the tune of about $13,000." He said he got his associate's degree in June.

Chief O'Donnell, who obtained his master's degree in 2005, had to pay $20,000 for approximately two years of online education.

The online program at Boston University, he said, proved to be a convenience.

"It's hard, especially when you're in my position," the chief said. "I've had three young kids. At the time I did it, I had two in elementary school and one in junior high."

Selectmen are considering a policy that would require all town employees to certify their educational background or degrees at the time they are hired.

NAME: WEST BROOKFIELD POLICE DEPARTMENT
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 4, 2008
Words:553
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