Republican Melissa Howard appears not to have the academic credentials she’s claiming in her Sarasota-area state House campaign. Despite stating on her campaign website and other candidate biographies that she graduated with a Bachelors degree in 1994 from Miami University (Ohio), the university through a non-profit clearinghouse that verifies academic records says no degree was ever awarded.When asked about the discrepancy that she didn’t graduate from Miami University, Howard said “that was a lie.”
She offered to send yearbook pictures and even provided a picture of her at a graduation ceremony. When FLA News asked for the one document that would verify graduation – a diploma – Howard promised to send an electronic copy but did not. She claimed it was in her mother’s storage unit in Ohio. Her campaign consultant later said Howard did not graduate in 1994, she was one credit short and later completed it in 1996. However, the campaign was unable to provide a copy of her diploma, despite four days of repeated requests.
Academic records are easily searched on the National Student Clearinghouse website. The non-profit organization partners with universities and colleges to allow for verification of academic degrees. Miami University calls the clearinghouse its “authorized agent for providing degree verification for graduates…”
When FLA News searched Howard’s academic record – using her maiden name Melissa Marie Fox and date of birth December 25, 1971 – it confirmed she attended Miami University from August 1990 to May 1994. But also states “No Degree — Enrollment Only.”
Based on Howard’s assertions that she graduated from Miami University, FLA News asked the clearinghouse to verify its finding. After contacting the university, the clearinghouse provided a DegreeVerify Certificate that confirmed no degree had been awarded to Howard.
Howard is in a heated race in House District 73 to replace current Representative Joe Gruters, who’s running for the State Senate. The district includes Sarasota and eastern Manatee counties. Howard has been endorsed by Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Her “Get to Know Your Candidate” profile on the Chamber website also states that she has a college degree.
Howard faces Sarasota attorney and retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Tommy Gregory in the GOP primary on August 28. Gregory has endorsements from former U.S. Senator Connie Mack and the National Rifle Association.
Howard’s campaign places the blame for the allegations on her opponent in the Republican primary in a statement provided to FLA News. “This is just another attempt by our desperate opponent, Tommy Gregory to lie about Melissa Howard. He lied about her being a Democrat in Ohio, which the Supervisor of Elections refuted. There’s nothing he won’t do or say to hurt Melissa or her reputation within the community. It’s shameful. Melissa graduated with a degree in marketing and we have requested her transcripts from the University and have been told they take 4-6 weeks to arrive.”
While it’s true the university’s timeline for providing transcripts is 4-6 weeks, the information provided by the clearinghouse takes on average 2-3 days.
A college degree isn’t a requirement to run for the state legislature and not having one doesn’t diminish Howard’s business success and civic involvement since she moved from Ohio to Manatee County six years ago. It does, however, call into question why – if the clearinghouse information is correct – she would overinflate her academic background and how long she’s been doing it.