What is a Diploma Mill?

By Celeste Stewart

Wouldn’t it be great if you could earn your bachelor’s degree in just a few months? Even better, what if could do so without having to interact with professors or take classes? While it might be amazing to have your diploma handed to you, the old “if it sounds too good to be true” saying applies. When it comes to an online education, if it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a diploma mill

What is a Diploma Mill?

If the term diploma mill conjures up images of a factory churning out diplomas on demand, your interpretation is spot on. According to the Higher Education Opportunity Act, a diploma mill is 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 (as such term is defined in section 102) by—(i) the Secretary pursuant to subpart 2 of part H of title IV; or (ii) a Federal agency, State government, or other organization or association that recognizes accrediting agencies or associations.”
– 103(a)(20), Higher Education Opportunity Act

What are the Signs that a Degree Program is a Diploma Mill?

As you explore online education programs, you may come across a diploma mill or two. How can you tell which programs are legitimate and which ones issue worthless pieces of paper? Below are a few signs that a degree program may be a diploma mill:

  • The name of the institution sounds remarkably like that of a prestigious university or college
  • The course load is light or non-existent
  • You can purchase a degree
  • The online education program charges per degree rather than by the course or credit
  • You can earn a degree based on experience or a review of your resume
  • You can earn a degree in an extremely short amount of time
  • The institution address is a P.O. box
  • The institution has a foreign address
  • The online education institution or program features accreditation by bogus accrediting agencies

In contrast, reputable schools require that you work for your degree. You must attend classes, either in person or online, turn in work for evaluation, pass tests and exams and meet other specific attendance and proficiency requirements. Tuition is typically charged by the course, credit or semester, not by the degree. While flexible options may be available, a reputable degree program takes time to complete – usually several years.

Is there a List of Known Diploma Mills?

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a comprehensive list doesn’t exist because new bogus credentialing sources appear all the time (Bureau of Consumer Protection – Jan. 2005). However, you can check on a school’s accreditation status at the U.S. Department of Education’s website. It maintains a searchable database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs. Not only can you find out if an online education institution is accredited, you can also view the “scope of recognition” of the accrediting organization to be sure it is also legitimate.

Will Employers Accept a Questionable Degree?

Employers are well aware of diploma mills and are not impressed by job applicants that inflate their credentials with bogus degrees. Numerous tools exist for employers to research the validity of a degree.

What about Online Education Programs with .edu Extensions – Are They Legitimate?

While the .edu extension is reassuring, it’s not necessarily a measure of quality. Some diploma mills have an online presence with the .edu extension.

Are Online Education Programs Diploma Mills?

While many diploma mills operate online, not all online colleges are bogus. In fact, many fine institutions exist completely or partially online.

Unfortunately, diploma mills are all over the Internet. It all comes down to doing your research to ensure that whichever degree program you are considering is legitimate and accredited by a recognized accreditation organization.

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