Buyer Beware: Degree/Diploma Mills
There are many credible degree programs available, but there are also some that are not. For this reason, it’s imperative that you thoroughly research out-of-state institutions and online degree programs prior to enrolling.
What Is a Diploma Mill?
The Higher Education Opportunity Act defines a diploma mill as follows:
Diploma Mill: The term “diploma mill” means an entity that; A)(i) offers, for a fee, degrees, diplomas, or certificates, that may be used to represent to the general public that the individual possessing such a degree, diploma, or certificate has completed a program of postsecondary education or training; and (ii) requires such individual to complete little or no education or coursework to obtain such degree, diploma, or certificate; and (B) lacks accreditation by an accrediting agency or association that is recognized as an accrediting agency or association of institutions of higher education.
In other words, diploma mills are schools that are more interested in taking your money than providing you with a quality education. It’s important that you know how to protect yourself as a consumer.
Pay Attention to Red Flags!
The Better Business Bureau suggests you watch for the following red flags when considering whether or not to enroll in a school:
- Degrees that can be earned in less time than at an accredited postsecondary institution. An example would be earning a Bachelor's degree in a few months.
- A list of accrediting agencies that sounds a little too impressive. Often, these schools will list accreditation by organizations that are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (the two reputable organizations that recognize accrediting agencies). Find an accredited school.
- Offers that place unrealistic emphasis on offering college credits for lifetime or real world experience.
- Tuition paid on a per-degree basis, or discounts for enrolling in multiple degree programs. Accredited institutions charge by credit hours, course, or semester.
- Little or no interaction with professors.
- Names that are similar to well known reputable universities.
- Addresses that are box numbers or suites and/or institutions that don’t have telephone contact numbers, addresses, departments or faculty.
If you still have doubts, contact the Better Business Bureau or the state Attorney General's office to make sure the school is operating legally in a state and to see if anyone has filed a complaint.