May 20, 2005

Making your foreign education count

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

In San Diego and the rest of California, it’s not difficult to find many educated Mexican professionals working as cooks in fast-food restaurants. They often have completed a bachelors degree and worked for major companies in Mexico, but after migrating to the United States, due to language barriers and misinformation about the educational system here, these professionals have to settle for dead-end jobs.

It doesn’t have to be this way, however.

Immigrants have the option of having their foreign degrees evaluated by one of many U.S. independent evaluation companies.

If their degree is equivalent to a U.S. degree, they’re on their way to a more fulfilling career.

Diane Edwards-Li Pera, a counselor and instructor at Southwestern College, has been giving advice to immigrants about this topic for several years through a one-day class offered at the South County Career Center.

The course, titled “Using Your Foreign Degree in the U.S.”, gives all basic information immigrants need to start the degree evaluation process.

La Prensa San Diego met with Edwards-Li Pera to talk more about this important –and often confussing— topic.

La Prensa: Is it difficult for immigrants to revalidate their foreign degrees in the U.S.?

Diane Edwards-Li Pera: “Revalidation” of foreign degrees, referred to in the United States as “evaluation for US equivalency”, is a relatively simple process. It requires sending university documents (i.e. transcripts, diploma/titulo) to an independent evaluation company that will review the studies completed and determine whether or not it is equal to a degree in the United States, or, if not equal to a degree, how many credits have been completed toward a degree.

La Prensa: Is the U.S. Department of Education in charge of this process?

Edwards-Li Pera: There is no specific office or government agency in charge of evaluations. A quick search of the internet shows that there are hundreds of independent companies that provide foreign degree evaluation services. Before randomly choosing a company and sending them your university documents and a check to cover the fees, I recommend that you first do some research. For instance, if you will need to have a license or credential to work in your profession, you should first check with the appropriate licensing/credential board to determine if there is an approved list of evaluation companies to choose from.

La Prensa: What type of degrees can be revalidated? What advantages do immigrants have by doing this procedure?

Edwards-Li Pera: Typically, university level degrees (bachelors, masters, doctorates, professional degrees) are evaluated across a wide variety of professions and areas of study. Sometimes it can also be useful to have university studies evaluated for US equivalency even if a degree was not completed. If you studied at a university but did not complete all of the requirements for the degree you still might find it useful to have your studies evaluated to help with proof of education, for job search, to start at a higher salary level or to move up on the pay scale, or to demonstrate a certain knowledge base or specific qualifications, or perhaps to be eligible for a promotion to a professional position. For people who did not complete their degree, there are options for finishing up in the U.S.

La Prensa: What’s the purpose of doing this? Are foreign degrees not valid by themselves in the US?

Edwards-Li Pera: It can be a requirement for getting a license or credential to work in certain professions (i.e. education, healthcare, technical and other science fields). Many employers require proof of education and want to see U.S. equivalency. An evaluation can sometimes help to determine your starting salary. It is not always necessary, however, for applying to a local university for advanced studies.

La Prensa: Do immigrants need to speak English before doing the evaluation?

Edwards-Li Pera: You don’t have to speak English to have an evaluation done. A translation of the university documents will be needed, but that is a service that many evaluation companies offer, or that can done privately. English fluency is necessary, however, for professionals seeking employment in the United States.

La Prensa: What countries and majors do you serve the most?

Edwards-Li Pera: In the past four years I’ve had the chance to serve over seven-hundred professionals with foreign degrees or studies. They have attended the non-credit course that I teach for Southwestern College, “Using Your Foreign Degree in the United States,” and I have seen many of them for individual career counseling appointments after they’ve completed the class. People who come to the class represent countries from all around the globe, but as you might expect, the majority have come from Mexico. Most of the people I’ve seen are here as permanent residents, but some are here as refugees on work or visitor visas, etc. Given the diversity and language backgrounds of the people attending, the course is taught in English.

La Prensa: Can someone revalidate degrees from ANY foreign university?

Edwards-Li Pera: Evaluation companies have clear guidelines and criteria that they use in determining if foreign studies are equivalent to U.S. studies. The first thing they look for is the standing of the university or college in its own country. They look at how it is accredited in the home country, what level of education it provides (vocational, technical, professional) and the admissions requirements for students entering the university. Most countries have their own government standards related to public and private education. For example, in Mexico the demand for higher education has resulted in an increase in the number of educational institutes starting up, but not all are approved by the ‘Secretaria de Educacion’, which is the national accreditation agency in Mexico. Many of these institutes grant degrees, but are not necessarily recognized by the Mexican or U.S. systems. U.S. evaluation companies will look closely at the standing of the school in its own country, how it matches up with U.S. accreditation standards, the individual’s program of study, and whether or not a degree was completed.

La Prensa: Is it expensive to do this procedure?

Edwards-Li Pera: There are different types of evaluations that can be done. They range from a simple degree-to-degree evaluation or to more detailed evaluations of specific coursework, grades earned, specializations, etc. The typical costs can range from $100-$1000, depending on the type of evaluation requested and the fees set by the evaluation company. There are evaluation companies that provide an excellent service, and that have a good reputation with professional licensing boards, that provide a range of services for $150-$400. The type of evaluation needed depends on your career goals and any specific requirements for licensing or employment that you need to fulfill. It’s a good idea to determine your career goals and professional needs before having an evaluation done.

La Prensa: Could you give me some background information on the class?

Edwards-Li Pera: The “Using your Foreign Degree in the United States” course was developed by me and is provided by Southwestern College as a response to a service need that exists in the community. Most clients are looking for work or educational opportunities and are unaware of how to use their foreign studies in the United States. Some had been given the wrong information, or maybe just assumed, that their educational backgrounds would not count for anything in the United States. The class fills up very quickly and pre-registration is strongly recommended. There isn’t always room for walk-ins the night of the class. At each session I have about 30-40 attendees and many of them choose to have a follow-up individual career counseling appointment with me.

La Prensa: Could you describe some of the topics covered?

Edwards-Li Pera: The “Using Your Foreign Degree in the United States” class is offered four or more times each year. The topics covered in the three-hour session include: the U.S. education system; how and when to have transcripts/degrees evaluated; state licensing and credentialing; English language proficiency; professional networking; advanced university study options.

Since the class fills quickly, it’s strongly recommend that people pre-register for the next class by contacting the South County Career Center at (619) 424-1112.

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