How To Identify a Diploma/Degree Mill             
 
Mill

  • What is a diploma / degree mill?

A “diploma mill” or “degree mill” is a substandard or fraudulent college and/or university that will provide college degrees to those who submit or accomplish little or no college-level work. The “classic” diploma mill sends a diploma to any applicant who pays a fee. A few actually require applicants to take nonexistent or fabricated classes or even test out, where any score regardless, is a passing one or the prospect is asked to document their work and life experience in a narrative for a degree but the assessor is neither qualified to do so or has little or no expertise in the subject fields. This fraudulent activity provides credit for anything and then wraps it in a phony transcript that looks legitimate but is not.

  • Why are diploma mills allowed to exist?

The basic laws of Marketing 101 are at work. The demand is not created or put on the public because it (the demand) already exists. As long as there are people worldwide (and there are plenty of them) seeking to acquire shortcuts, unearned recognition, or acknowledgment, at any cost, for what they would like other people to perceive them as, current and future diploma mills will continue to exist and thrive. Many in high positions throughout America and the world, for that matter, have credentials that are bogus, fabricated for them by diploma mills. 

  • Are all prior learning assessments (PLA) product of diploma mills?

Documenting one's work or life experience for college credit is known in America as a Prior Learning Assessment,also known as PLA. This is a perfectly legitimate way to document for college credit ones professional experience so long as the evaluator is academically qualified. Today that means an individual doing the assessing has either a masters or doctorate in the field being assessed. Their credentials must have been acquired from an accredited institution approved by the US Department of Education that is today's minimal standard in the USA for validation purposes. This does not mean that others such as the French Governments VAE are not equally good or superior forms of PLA, it means only that the American perception today of PLA requires the minimalist standard previously noted. 

  • How do I tell  differences between a mill and a legitimate school?  

Spotting diploma mills is actually pretty easy. There are a number of red flags that should caution any individual set on acquiring a legitimate and academically rigorous degree from a reputable institution. If you see any of the warning signs and do not clear them in your own mind, you not only may be dealing with a diploma mill but also personally soliciting it to seek an easy way to a degree. Here are the track warnings generally recognized as the underbelly of a diploma mill. Anyone looking for a legitimate education would want to know them.

They are:

1. You earn degrees in days or few months rather than years.

2. The university places much emphasis on offering college credit mostly for life experiences. Note the previously mentioned French Government program recognition of life work. The European Unions (EU) recognition of degrees awarded under this method, provides a means for individuals to do this legitimately without classes based entirely on their contributions to the field the degree is awarded. 

3. The university sends a diploma of your choice if you pay a fee.

4. The university permits you to determine your grade point average and academic honors. 

5. The university provides a complete transcript with all the courses you would normally see on a legitimate transcript for a price.

6. The University charges tuition by the degree, or offers discounts if you enroll in multiple degree programs. (The legitimate colleges generally charge by the credit hour and course for the term, or semester. Training schools or colleges with certificate programs offering individual certification are exempt in that most charge tuition by the section, or entire program.

7. The university, other than a legitimate, totally online, virtual university, lives out of a post office box or virtual office address and leads you to believe it is a brick and mortar or traditional distance learning school. They should be totally avoided. Distance learning does not mean it is ONLINE learning. It means phone mentoring, email, and a connection with the office of the school. Legitimate distance education providers actually work out of buildings. The emergence of the totally virtual and legitimate campuses where all classes, classrooms, and offices are totally online has blurred the vision of well meaning critics who lump all into one basket. Thus, if in doubt, review the previous criteria listed and what follows. It will help you separate the wheat from the chaff or something of value from something worthless. 

8. A university website, regardless of whether it is supposed to be a traditional or non traditional (online) or distance education institution, should include information that has come to be regarded as the HALLMARK of legitimate institutions of higher learning to wit:

                    A mission statement

                    Whether it is clearly non-profit or for-profit 

                    Details of its programs and how delivered 

                    Requirements and limitations of admission for specific programs

                    Accessible qualitative library resources and peer networking

9. Faculty recruitment and information regarding what kind of credentials they have are missing. If it is an online university, it is unlikely many faculty will be full time. Therefore one would look to see what criteria the institution holds out for faculty to join it. Legitimate institutions will list or reference where that may be found. The industry refers to part-time faculty as adjuncts. In most American universities adjuncts average 60% of the faculty pool. It is wise therefore to insist on what the minimum credentials are of the faculty that will be teaching you even if the institution is a 100-year-old traditional icon. Faculty, in legitimate universities actually teach. They may be mentors as well but they are not just “evaluators”, “counselors”, or “advisors”. They primarily “teach” and the other descriptions may or may not be included. They are never and the emphasis is “never” just one of the “other” descriptions. The exception is at the doctoral level where a “committee” guides the doctoral candidate. Their credentials are the determining factor in judging the value of the program for they are examples of what the university requires of all its doctoral committees and candidates.

10. A diploma mill can be accredited or unaccredited. In America, there are many who erroneously suggest that a USA unaccredited school means the school is a diploma mill. Nothing could be further from the truth. If that were ever the case then many of America’s medallion colleges would be long recognized diploma mills at least until the 1960’s when it became fashionable for institutions to join one of the six privately run regional accrediting agencies approved the US Dept. of Education for disbursement of Government guaranteed student loans. Anyone who suggests that an unaccredited institution is a diploma mill without first putting it to the tests noted above does not know the law, the history or the fact that accreditation in America is strictly voluntary.

11. A university’s name is similar to a well-known and well-respected institution of higher learning. This is a fairly good indication the university is bogus, particularly in today’s global environment. However, emerging institutions that adopt the names of their family or founders are a pretty good cinch to be on the up and up, no matter how new.

  • How can I determine if a University is a diploma mill in my state?

There are 50 jurisdictions in America for awarding licenses to operate a school, regardless of kind in each of the 50 states. Some have attempted to hold themselves out as some sort of national approval agency and have used the Internet and their official offices to promote that idea. However, if you have concerns about a particular university being accepted by employers in your state in the USA or employers in your home country, we encourage you to do your homework before you enroll and spend money.  

Some states in America have made it mandatory to register in their state in order for a university to be a recognized institution. This selective prejudice seems particularly pointed at new institutions since hundreds if not thousands of institutions around the world are not subjected to the same bias. We find this similar to the very dilemma the home schooled found themselves in the 70’s and 80’s when various state regulators and agencies tried to outlaw them or make their lives so uncomfortable that home school in their respective states was untenable. Once a national legal defense fund was formed, many of the state laws were found unconstitutional or unenforceable.

Several states in America have thrown up barriers to new institutions of higher learning by inventing and posting rules for recognition in their own states on their websites. The most popular state declarations are:

1:  Determine if the university is operating legally in our state;
What this really means is that the institutions recognized have paid the state fees and jumped through the states hoops according to the individual state requirements for recognition. In one instance, institutions not even remotely connected to the state are listed on the website as unacceptable to the state for their citizens to enroll. If the institution in question is registered and licensed in another state, the state commenting may not recognize that states process as acceptable to them. It is a perfect catch 22 for the fledgling institutions trying to get “respect”.  Regardless of the agenda, the state citizens are led to assume as well as anyone referred to the state's website that if the university has not registered or paid its fees to them and followed the criteria the state has set out, it is not included on their approved list. Thus according to the state it is or MAY be a diploma mill. This is a state government version of extortion.

2:  Determine if the university is “accredited” by a recognized accrediting association. What this criteria means is that regardless of the fact that no university is required to be accredited, the states making this statement either don’t know it or refuse to accept it. The demand that a university be accredited is not law in the USA or in most other international jurisdictions. Some states have found that they can protect their in-state institutions from competition by alleging that any school not accredited by a US Department of Education approved agency MAY be a diploma mill if it is not so accredited. This also is a deliberate effort to force institutions to submit to the particular states invented rules of the road when in fact there is nothing constitutional to support them. Again, using the state government franchise and the Internet, these stipulations far influence the unsuspecting well beyond the state's boarders.

Call or email us at the Academy if you have any questions about whether you are looking at a diploma mill in sheep’s clothing. You might also want to order our book on the Best & Worst Online Degree Programs. It tells you who is doing their job and who is not.



And, for a penetrating report on the state of accreditation in the USA read this speical report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Click on the link below:

Why Accreditation Doesn't Work & What Policy Makers CAn Do About It