Online Diploma Mill Scams

When it comes to getting an online education, several problems can crop up. A school could, for example, lure students in with the promise of low tuition fees and a fast route to graduation. If this deal sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. Schools can only offer such deals when they do not have accreditation, or when they have accreditation from an agency that does not have federal recognition. These schools are plagued by poorly designed programs, unqualified faculty, and a host of other issues. Some of them might even be outright scams.

Diploma Mills

Diploma mills are the most prevalent type of online college scams. A typical diploma mill scam will advertise online degrees for as little as $500. Degrees are awarded within a few weeks, if not days, seemingly on the basis of an applicant’s personal history and life experiences. In reality, anyone can pay to receive any degree that they want. These degrees are not in any way valid, and no reputable accrediting agency will accredit an institution that produces them. They will not be accepted by employers or accredited schools, and it is in fact illegal to try to pass off such a degree as legitimate.

The best way to avoid being taken in by a diploma mill or another scam is to use your common sense. A postsecondary education costs a lot of money – there is no way around it. While a prospective student should properly investigate any school under consideration, special attention should be paid to schools that offer degrees for low prices. A postsecondary education also takes time. A proper course of study cannot be completed within a few weeks, or even a few months, despite what some scams may advertise.

The easiest way to verify the legitimacy of a school is to check its accreditation. Cross-reference any accreditation claims made by the school, including the status of the accrediting agency, with the Department of Education.

Another sound strategy for avoiding online college scams is to contact graduates of appealing schools. Do they feel like they received a worthwhile education? A graduate of a legitimate, accredited institution will probably be willing to talk about his or her experience, either in positive or negative terms. Likewise, a victim of a scam will usually want to warn others about its hazards. A simple Google search can be helpful, too – it will usually return several personal reviews of specific online schools.

Red Flags to Look For

The red flags already mentioned, as well as several others, have been compiled by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation into a comprehensive list, replicated below. If an institution has even one of the following characteristics, further investigation should be conducted:

  • 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, either online or in class?
  • 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 fail to provide any information about a campus or business location or address and rely, 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?

The key to finding a strong, legitimate online degree program is doing good research. Don’t be taken in by diploma mills and other scams: know the warning signs and what you can do to avoid them.

By Valerie Schirmer

Valerie Schirmer on Google+

Article Resources:

U.S. Department of Education Accreditation Database
The New York Times 
Council for Higher Education Accreditation