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  Ariz. Astrology School Accredited

By Giovanna Dell'orto
Associated Press Writer
Monday, Aug. 27, 2001; 1:53 p.m. EDT

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. –– The stars were favorably aligned this month for the Astrological Institute, says founder Joyce Jensen, whose students learn to write horoscopes and give advice about the future.

The modest school in suburban Phoenix won accreditation from a federally recognized body, in what's believed to be a first for a school of astrology. Now the institute can seek approval from the U.S. Education Department for its students to get federal grants and loans.

From her observation of the celestial array, Jensen said she now sees that "this was a very good time" for her school. But Jensen – a 60-year-old Scorpio – also noted she's been seeking accreditation for years, and wouldn't have stopped no matter what the stars indicated.

Her institute, where courses include a "master class on the asteroid goddesses" and "how to write an astrological column," offers one program: a diploma in astrology and psychology.

The institute received accreditation from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology after demonstrating that its teachers are qualified and that its graduates can be placed in jobs, said Elise Scanlon, head of the Arlington, Va.-based commission.

Scanlon and other officials in her field knew of no other accredited astrology schools.

Judith Eaton, head of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation in Washington, said the accreditation doesn't validate astrology, but only recognizes that the school fulfills what it promises its students.

The institute occupies part of a former elementary school. Inside its orange front door, painted with a fiery sun, the school is sparsely decorated. Its two classrooms contain little more than folding tables and chairs; a few Indian rugs on the walls lend a Southwestern flavor.

Tuition is $5,300, with classes offered in the day and evening. Full-time students can earn a diploma in 12 months. But a majority of the 32 students now enrolled come at night, after working day jobs.

To earn a diploma, they must pass six required courses: three each in astrology and psychology, plus at least four electives. Besides learning astrology, Jensen said, "if you're going to be an astrologer, you really need the skills of counseling people."

Graduates usually set up private practice, though some get hired in holistic healing centers, spas and cruise ships, Jensen said. She hopes eventually to offer an associate degree, which would require further accreditation.

With the respectability of accreditation and the possibility of financial aid, Jensen, an astrologer herself, hopes to draw younger people more interested in astrology as a profession than a know-thyself pursuit. Many of the students now are in their 30s.

"We haven't had young people for a long time" because they lack the money to pay for the program, Jensen said.

Astrology claims a person's character and fate are directed at birth by the position of the Sun, Moon, and planets. This is charted in a horoscope, which is often done these days with the help of computer software.

Scientists scoff at the pursuit.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist who heads the Hayden Planetarium in New York, noted astrology was discredited 600 years ago with the birth of modern science. "To teach it as though you are contributing to the fundamental knowledge of an informed electorate is astonishing in this, the 21st century," he said.

Education should be about knowing how to think, Tyson said. "And part of knowing how to think is knowing how the laws of nature shape the world around us. Without that knowledge, without that capacity to think, you can easily become a victim of people who seek to take advantage of you."

Jensen is familiar with such criticism. "It's quite obvious that he hasn't studied the subject," she said.

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On the Net:

Department of Education on accreditation: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OPE/accreditation/natlagencies.html

Accrediting Commission: http://www.accsct.org/

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AP National Writer Arlene Levinson contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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