Beware of diploma mills

24 Apr

Tara Siegel Bernard has a great article in the New York Times about researching career training to see if a particular option is a good choice. In Making Career Development Pay Bernard advises:        

IN shaky economic times, going back to school needs to be treated like any other investment: you need to weigh the potential returns while closely managing the costs.

Paula Hogan, left, a financial planner, and Jane Schroeder, a career counselor, in Ms. Hogan’s office.

So before you enroll in a program, you should ask the same sorts of questions that a portfolio manager might ask when analyzing conventional investments, like stocks: Am I buying a reputable credential? What is demand like in the field I’m interested in? What is the earnings potential? What are the long-term prospects? And how can I minimize my expenses?

The more radical the shift in careers you contemplate, the more research you should do. You might, for example, visit O*Net OnLine, a Web site maintained by the Labor Department, to check out salaries or estimates of employment opportunities for different professions.

Or you might test the waters in a field you are interested in. See if you can find an employee to shadow, making sure to ask questions about the job, the satisfactions, the downsides and industry trends.

They will tell you the truth in your area before you put any money down on schools,” said Beverly Baskin, executive director of BBCS Counseling Services, a career counseling firm in Marlboro, N.J.

Even better, see if you can find a job, even part time, or an internship in the field you plan to pursue. If no paid positions are available, considering volunteering, if that is permitted.

Bernard has some excellent resources for researching the career decision. The decision to re-train for a new career or to go back to school for additional training should be thoroughly researched. After the decision is made, then any school or training program should be researched to ensure that it is accredited and licensed.

Jennifer Williamson has written a great article, Six Signs Your Online School is a Diploma Mill for Distance Education.Org:

There are two common types of diploma mills.  The first will simply mail you a degree for a fee of a few hundred dollars.  They sometimes ask to see your resume first, and will pretend to vet you for “life experience credit.” Of course, everybody who applies gets enough life experience credit to earn an entire degree.

The second type will actually require some work, but it will be minimal.  Your dissertation may be five pages long instead of fifty, and you’ll be able to earn a degree in months, not years.  These diploma mills are a bit more dangerous than the first type, because they more closely resemble legitimate schools.  However, there are still a few warning signs:

Lightning-Fast Degrees 

It should take you four years to earn an undergraduate degree, two or three years to earn a Master’s degree, and another three to five—depending on the subject—to earn a Ph.D. Many diploma mills claim you can earn degrees in months, not years.  Be cautious if a school you’re considering is making this claim. 

Bogus Accreditation

Legitimate schools are reviewed by accreditation agencies: third-party nonprofits that hold schools to rigorous standards.  There are six regional accreditors, and it’s best to go to a school that lists one of these as its accrediting agency.

Many online schools are accredited by one of a long list of national agencies in the U.S. instead.  National accreditors are not always considered as rigorous as regional accreditors, but they are still legitimate.

The Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) maintains a database of legitimately accredited schools.  You can also check our list of regional, national, and known illegitimate accreditors. If the accrediting agency listed by your school is in the third category—or if it isn’t on this list at all—it’s probably a diploma mill.

They Charge per Degree 

Legitimate schools charge per credit hour, per course, or per semester.  Diploma mills often charge by degree.  Some offer discounts if you order a second degree, which a legitimate school would never do. A small handful of legitimate schools do offer programs for a flat fee, but it’s rare.

It’s Easy To Get Credit For Life Experience

Some diploma mills will ask you to send in your resume, and will give you almost unlimited credits for life experience.  In some cases, you can get all the credits you need for a degree through life experience.  Just pay the school’s fees—usually a few hundred dollars or so—and they’ll mail you a degree.

This is tricky, because legitimate schools offer life experience credits as well.  But it’s very rare to be able to earn your entire degree through life experience credit—and impossible with a post-graduate degree.

In addition, they’ll ask to see more than your resume to prove your competence.  Legitimate schools will ask you to assemble a prior learning portfolio, write personal essays, take standardized tests, or undergo an interview process to determine whether you’ve really earned those life experience credits.

The Work Required Is Minimal

If you’re required to read a few articles, write a few simple papers, and hand in a five-page dissertation at the end, it’s not likely you’ve learned enough to earn a legitimate degree. 

The School Is Located In A State With Little Regulation

Some states make it easier for diploma mills to operate than others.  Alabama, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, and Wyoming are all common locations for diploma mills, because of loopholes in local law or lax regulation.  Of course, there are many legitimate schools located in these states as well.  But if your school looks suspicious already, check to see if it’s based in one of these states.  If it is, it may be a bad sign.

Ulinks has 16 Key Questions to Ask a Vocational School:

Before visiting the vocational school or trade school

  • Is the vocational school or trade school you are considering accredited by a reputable accrediting agency?
  • Is the vocational school or trade school properly licensed in the state in which it is operating?
  • What are the admissions requirements and how does it compare to similar vocational schools and trade schools?
  • Do other schools allow students to transfer credit from the vocational school or trade school you are considering?
  • What is the crime rate like at the vocational school or trade school you are considering and how does it compare to other schools
  • Does the vocational school or trade school have any complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau, the Department of Consumer Affairs, or the Department of Education?
  • Are the fees being charged by a vocational school or trade school in-line with the fees at other comparable schools?
  • What do potential employers in your chosen industry think about vocational school or trade school programs you are researching and would they hire graduates from that school?

While visiting the vocational school or trade school

  • Do the vocational school instructors seem knowledgeable and do they teach effectively?
  • Do students enrolled in the vocational school or trade school you are considering like the programs and recommend it?
  • Do current students feel that they are learning what they need to know to get a good job in the future?
  • What do current students say about the instructors on campus?
  • Have students had any issues or problems with the school, the curriculum, the instructors, or the facilities?
  • What do the current students like the most and the least about the vocational school or trade school?
  • What percentage of students successfully complete their programs?
  • Is it possible to obtain a list of past students whom you can contact?

During periods of crisis or uncertainty the scam artists emerge and try to take advantage of the unsuspecting. Before making a decision about any school, students, parents, and guardians must research the options.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

One Response to “Beware of diploma mills”


  1. Surviving a ‘diploma mill’ « drwilda - July 1, 2012

    […] Beware of diploma mills […]

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