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Sunday, October 1, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Troubleshooter

Students Find Warnborough Is Not A Part Of Oxford

Finding the right college or university for Suzy or Johnny really tugs at the hearts - and pocketbooks - of parents, who want the best for their kids.

It's the stuff of hopes and dreams. And pride.

So last month, when about 40 American students arrived to study "The Oxford Programmes" at Warnborough College in England, some did a double take.

"You could see the shocked faces," said Ian Schuler of St. Mary's, Pa. After viewing promotional materials, many students and parents say they believed Warnborough to be affiliated with the revered Oxford University. Instead it's a college about four miles from the city of Oxford, England. It lacks many of the classes and equipment students had been led to believe existed. For example, computer hookups and a link to the Internet are scheduled for completion in 1996.

According to Schuler, the Warnborough campus consists of three buildings: a lodge for the teaching staff and two old mansions, one for the women's dorm, one for the men, which also are used for classes. The only phone for students is in the TV room in the men's dorm.

"Every week someone else is leaving," Schuler said, adding that about 20 American students have left, with 23 remaining. "Our fun is making fun of our situation," Schuler said in an interview by phone.

Mark M. Huck, director of admissions/west for the school and based in Seattle, says Warnborough is "first rate" with classes of four or five students that operate "on the Oxford tutorial system," and that it costs less than what is available in the United States.

"Over half of our faculty hold degrees from Oxford," Huck said. "We have voluntarily put more clarifying statements into our literature."

About 3,000 American students learned of Warnborough through a checkoff system in conjunction with pre-college tests, Huck said.

Schuler is torn between completing the school year or leaving in December. He's there on student loans, and will have to repay them regardless. He turned down admission at Penn State, Carnegie Mellon and Johns Hopkins.

Students were told they could use Oxford University's renowned Bodleian Library, which is comparable to our Library of Congress.

But Schuler says Warnborough students don't have access to the library except during Oxford vacations and then must pay special fees.

Like Schuler, Manuel Mascarenas of Tucson, Ariz., probably will stay until December. He is concerned about whether credits from Warnborough can be transferred to a university here.

Four women students, unhappy with the facilities and the courses, left before classes began and complained to the American embassy.

Among their grievances:

-- Warnborough's one-room library contains outdated books. Huck says Warnborough doesn't claim to have a library on its campus and directs students to two libraries in the city of Oxford. But the school's literature is not all that clear.

-- Of more than 650 classes outlined in the school's catalog, only 40 were offered. Huck says if nobody signs up for a class, no faculty is hired to teach it, and there are issues as to whether some students are qualified to take certain courses.

The parent of a Washington state student felt lured into Warnborough by its promise of a "dual degree." She is familiar with eastern colleges in the United States that offer dual degrees. But to obtain an Oxford University degree, a student would have to study there and sit for exams and interviews there.

Since tuition is already paid, some students have chosen to stay and make the best of the experience.

Jennifer Mitchell of Milford, Conn., says she's "very happy" with the Warnborough campus.

Mitchell, whose parents have paid tuition through May, hopes to use the tutoring she's getting at Warnborough to prepare for entrance to Oxford.

Last month the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board sued Warnborough College. The state said Warnborough's promotional materials are deceptive and the school is:

-- Not licensed or authorized to grant degrees by any state in the United States; the District of Columbia, where it had an admissions office, or the United Kingdom.

-- Has operated an admissions office in Seattle without authorization from the board.

The U.S. Department of Education has halted its loans for students attending Warnborough.

Seven families asked Washington state to take legal action because Warnborough had an admissions office here, said Carole Ressler, an assistant attorney general. The families paid from $9,000 to $12,000 for a semester, with some paying $20,000 for a year.

Several families who sent their sons and daughters off "to Oxford," are finding it difficult to tell friends and relatives that Warnborough isn't part of Oxford University.

"It's like a death in the family," said one, who declined to be named.

How can you check out an unfamiliar college or university?

Here are some tips from Elaine Jones, a policy associate with the state's Higher Education Coordinating Board:

-- Ask for the name of the accrediting association that has accredited the institution. Is it recognized by the U.S. Department of Education?

-- If not accredited, is it licensed or authorized by a state agency?

-- Check with other institutions you plan to attend to learn whether its credits and/or degree will be accepted for transfer. It can be difficult to transfer credits from some bona fide institutions to other schools.

-- If possible visit the campus before you pay any fees. Talk with students and faculty; check out student services.

-- Don't sign loan agreements until you've done all your homework. Have an attorney check the contract. College is a big investment.

-- Inquire about the number of students who transfer to other schools, and job-placement opportunities.

-- Obtain a catalog and student handbook; ask about grievance and appeal procedures and refunds.

-- Talk with a career counselor at a university or a community college in your community.

-- Save all promotional materials and have an expert in education look at them.

Call the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board at (360) 753-7800 for information about accreditation associations.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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