City school board vice chair’s credentials called into question

Published 3:24 pm Saturday, May 20, 2017

On the eve of Franklin City School Board Vice Chairwoman Dr. Andrea Hall-Leonard’s potential reappointment to another term, concerns have been raised regarding the legitimacy of her doctoral degree. A source contacted The Tidewater News on Wednesday and suggested that Hall-Leonard’s degree may have come from an institution unaccredited by the U.S. Department of Education.

Hall-Leonard’s biographical information listed on the Franklin City Public Schools website states that in 2012 she earned a Ph.D. in Christian Education and Pastoral Counseling from ICW (Institute for Christian Works) Bible College and Theological Seminary. The ICW’s website,, claims the institution is accredited by two accrediting bodies: the World Council of Postsecondary and Religious Education and the Worldwide Accreditation Commission of Christian Educational Institutions. It goes on to state that, “Neither of these accreditation organizations are associates with the monopolistic or corrupt U.S. Department of Education.”

Dr. Alan F. Edwards Jr., director of policy studies for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, confirmed that neither body is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as an accrediting body, and both have been flagged in various print and electronic resources such as

Edwards added, “In the end, I cannot say — based simply on these quick internet searches — that ICW is definitely a diploma mill, but I do see red flags and a lot of them.”

Additionally, the ICW website lists no course descriptions under its doctoral program headings, lists no admission standards or processes, and it appears that to enroll a person can simply register on a separate page. The registration page gives no tuition information for any program other than the first certificate listed.

Accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education would not permit these types of omissions or ambiguities, Edwards said. The site also includes a legal disclaimer warning prospective students that they are responsible, prior to registration, for ascertaining whether any entity other than the ICW will recognize an ICW certificate or degree.

He added that the ICW, which lists its physical headquarters as being in Colombia, South Carolina, is not licensed by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education either. However, the ICW would be exempt from being legally required to obtain such licensure because it is a private institution with the sole purpose of providing religious or theological training.

ICW lists its address as 7001 St. Andrews Road, #325, Columbia, South Carolina. A search for that address returns the location as the Murraywood Centre, a shopping center managed by W.S. Commercial Real Estate in West Columbia, South Carolina. A list of the shopping center’s tenants at Murraywood’s website does not list ICW. A phone number for the institution is also not listed on ICW’s website.

The website for the first accrediting agency the ICW lists, the World Council of Postsecondary and Religious Education, claims that “there are two types of accrediting bodies, the first being U.S. Department of Education-controlled and monopolized accreditation, which they refer to as ‘recognized’ accreditation. The second, ‘private accreditation,’ is not associated with the U.S. Department of Education nor controlled by it.”

“Such a claim is often made by questionable parties,” Edwards said, adding that there was also evidence to suggest that the accreditor is somehow affiliated organizationally with or is actually part of the ICW.

The website of the second agency, the Worldwide Accreditation Commission, is a single page on the website for the Full Gospel of Christ Fellowship Inc., which identifies itself as the ministry of a Dr. Paul Richardson. It contains no links, save for one back to the site’s homepage. It, like the other accreditor and ICW, decries any affiliation with the U.S. Department of Education, stating that “religious accrediting associations are recognized by the Church of Jesus Christ, which has no supreme central office on earth. Our authority is derived directly from Heaven … a Christian educational institution securing accreditation from an association which is attached to a governmental agency is a scripturally condemned and unholy union.”

Franklin Mayor Frank Rabil and School Board Chairman Bob Holt both declined to comment on the matter, and Hall-Leonard was unable to be reached by email, phone, text, or in person during Thursday’s school board meeting, as she was not in attendance. Multiple phone and text messages, as well as emails, were unreturned.

As of press time, Franklin’s City Council is scheduled to vote Monday night at its regularly scheduled meeting on the reappointment of both Hall-Leonard, the current ward three school board representative, and Becky Jester, who represents ward one.