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Board of Proprietary Education

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Diploma Mills

Sound too good to be true? ... It probably is.

The following information is provided as a consumer service in order to educate the public on the subject of Diploma Mills and otherwise fraudulent "schools." It is important that both students and employers be made aware of fradulent schools and credentials.

While this page will updated, credit and thanks for the initial content goes the Missouri Department of Higher Education and the Wisconsin Education Approval Board.

What is a "diploma mill?"
A dictionary definition is "an unaccredited school or college that grants relatively worthless diplomas, as for a fee."

Alternatively, a diploma mill might be described as an institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or, because of the lack of proper standards, worthless.

What to Look For
In today's Internet-based world, with hundreds of higher education institutions of all types offering their programs by distance education, it is often very difficult to know which ones are reliable and which ones are just after the money. Consequently, the more important questions is, "how does someone avoid enrolling in a diploma mill?" The basic answer is that you have to be cautious and you must do some homework.

In general, institutions that grant degrees but are not accredited require more investigation. Additionally, study at such a school probably involves more risk relating to acceptance of the credit and degrees by other education institutions and employers. Check their legal status with the state in which they are located. A directory of higher education officials in each state is available on the Internet site maintained by the Council of Recognized National Accrediting Agencies . Keep in mind that all state laws and regulations are not created equal. Some are very stringent in their requirements and others are quite lax. Do not just assume that if the school is legal that the degree will be accepted universally.

Exempt Institutions
Many states exempt many types of institutions from their licensure requirements. As a consequence, exempt schools, while operating legally, have virtually no oversight by the state or other independent organizations. Consequently, enrollment in these institutions should be undertaken with great caution.

Foreign Institutions
If the institution is based outside of the United States, be very cautious as the laws and requirements of other countries are very different. Additionally, it requires considerably more effort to determine if the institution is really approved by its native country.

Accreditation
While ensuring you attend an accredited college is probably the best defense against falling prey to a diploma mill, even accreditation is not a safe haven. Unfortunately, there are many accrediting commissions that are little more than mills themselves. In order to be sure the accrediting group is reliable, you should be sure the accreditation is granted by an association recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation .

Spotting Degree & Diploma Mills
If the answers to many of these questions are “yes,” the operation under consideration may be a “mill”:

  • Can degrees be purchased?
  • Is there a claim of accreditation when there is no evidence of this status?
  • Is there a claim of accreditation from a questionable accrediting organization?
  • Does the operation lack state or federal licensure or authority to operate?
  • Is little if any attendance required of students?
  • Are few assignments required for students to earn credits?
  • Is a very short period of time required to earn a degree?
  • Are degrees available based solely on experience or resume review?
  • Are there few requirements for graduation?
  • Does the operation charge very high fees as compared with average fees charged by higher education institutions?
  • Alternatively, is the fee so low that it does not appear to be related to the cost of providing legitimate education?
  • Does the operation fail to provide any information about a campus or business location or address and relies, e.g., only on a post office box?
  • Does the operation fail to provide a list of its faculty and their qualifications?
  • Does the operation have a name similar to other well-known colleges and universities?
  • Does the operation make claims in its publications for which there is no evidence?

Spotting Accreditation Mills
If the answers to many of these questions are “yes,” the operation under consideration may be a “mill”:

  • Does the operation allow accredited status to be purchased?
  • Does the operation publish lists of institutions or programs they claim to have accredited without institutions and programs knowing that they are listed or have been accredited?
  • Are high fees for accreditation required as compared to average fees from accrediting organizations?
  • Does the operation claim that it is recognized (by, e.g., USDE or CHEA) when it is not?
  • Are few if any standards for quality published by the operation? • Is a very short period of time required to achieve accredited status?
  • Are accreditation reviews routinely confined to submitting documents and do not include site visits or interviews of key personnel by the accrediting organization?
  • Is “permanent” accreditation granted without any requirement for subsequent periodic review?
  • Does the operation use organizational names similar to recognized accrediting organizations?
  • Does the operation make claims in its publications for which there is no evidence?

US Department of Education Listing of Accrediting Agencies and Accredited Institutions
In addition, the U.S. Department of Education maintains a searchable database of recognized accrediting agencies and the schools they accredit. Click here to visit that site.

For More Information:

Office of Degree Authorization
The state of Oregon deals with the subject of diploma mills in great detail.

Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides an overview, designed for employers, regarding how to spot fraudulent or questionable degrees.

geteducated.com and degree.net
These are private sites containing a wealth of information about the issue of diploma mills and how to spot them.

Updated:  1/15/2014

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