Surviving a ‘diploma mill’

1 Jul

The Washington Post described the scope of the “diploma mill” problem in Hundreds Linked to Diploma Mill  Dr. Bruce Johnson wrote the Diploma Fraud. Com article, Students Beware! Diploma Mills Still Exist:

How extensive is the diploma mill problem? According to the article PhD, The Easy Way, published in the Chicago Tribune, it is estimated that 9,600 people may have bought fake degrees from a now shuttered St. Regis University in Washington state, and among the student roster were police officers and a Chicago Public Schools instructor. Several St. Regis employees pled guilty to fraud and that is only the tip of the phony degree iceberg. If it seems too good to be true that you can obtain a degree without going to class, well, it probably is. It may seem difficult to imagine that anyone could purchase a degree in this manner, especially with increased attention to accreditation and regulation of financial aid. However, diploma mills still exist – they offer degrees at for a substantially reduced investment and the transaction is often completed with a phone call or an email. The type of degree received is usually based upon a description of your life experience. All you need to provide is payment and suddenly you’re “qualified” for a new career, which is never a good idea to follow. In Diploma Mill Concerns Extend Beyond Fraud, George Gollin, a board member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, an accrediting authority recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, noted that “it is difficult to pin down how many diploma mills exist, or how many bogus degrees are bought each year;” however, he estimates that at one time “companies sold 100,000 to 200,000 phony degrees a year.”

What is a Diploma Mill?

The Missouri Department of Higher Education defines a “diploma mill”  as :

What is a “diploma mill?”

A dictionary definition is “an unaccredited school or college that grants relatively worthless diplomas, as for a fee.”   

Alternatively, a diploma mill might be described as an institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or, because of the lack of proper standards, worthless….

The key point is “diploma mills” have few standards. 

How to Spot a Diploma Mill?

There is an excellent article at ELearners.Com which tells you how to spot <a href="

They often have names similar to well-known colleges or universities, but fail to mention an accrediting agency or name a fake accrediting agency.

The organization frequently changes addresses, sometimes moving from state to state.

Written materials typically include numerous spelling and grammatical errors, sometimes on the diploma itself.

Overemphasis on the speed and brevity with which someone can receive a degree (e.g. “Call now and have your degree shipped to you overnight!”).

Degrees can be earned in far less time than normal (e.g. 27 days) or the diploma is printed with a specific backdate.

There is no selectivity in admissions, or any questions about previous test scores or detailed academic history.

No interaction with professors or faculty (e.g. only two emails are received from a professor).

Degree requirements are vague or unspecified, lacking class descriptions and without any mention of how many credit hours are required to complete a program.

Tuition and fees are typically on a per-degree basis.

Grade point average (GPA) and academic honors (e.g. Summa Cum Laude) can be specified at the time of purchase.

Buyer beware, if it seems too easy and too good to be true, you probably should investigate the accreditation of the school.  

What to Do If You are enrolled in a Diploma Mill?

The first step is not to enroll in a diploma mill in the first place. Jennifer Williamson of has written the great article, What to Do If You’re Enrolled in a Diploma Mill:

But maybe you didn’t spot these signs up front—for whatever reason—and you’ve been fooled by a diploma mill into parting with your money. While it’s not likely you’ll get your money back, there are a few things you can do.

First: stop giving them your money

If you’re involved in paying tuition with the school, stop paying immediately.

Do not, under any circumstance, list the degree on your resume

List an unaccredited degree on your resume and you not only risk your reputation—you risk your job. It’s better not to have a degree at all than to have a degree from a diploma mill—and companies do check these credentials, sometimes years after the person has been hired.

Ask for a refund in writing

If you’re sure you’re enrolled in a diploma mill, send a letter immediately requesting a refund of all tuition money you’ve paid. Send it by registered mail, explain why you want the refund, and make a copy for your own records. It’s doubtful that the diploma mill will send back your money, but it’s worth a shot—and the letter may be useful if you want to take your complaint to court.

Notify the authorities

Tell your state’s attorney general office what’s happened—there should be a way to file complaints on the attorney general’s website. It’s possible that the attorney general’s office will choose to go after the diploma mill.

Report to the Better Business Bureau

Reporting to the Better Business Bureau is a good move because it will serve to warn other potential students about the school. The reporting process only takes a few minutes and can be done entirely online, and the Bureau may be able to help you resolve the complaint.

If you’ve been had by a diploma mill, you don’t have a lot of options. But you can go public with your grievance and it’s possible law enforcement will decide to go after the school. Tell your attorney general and notify the Better Business Bureau. Stop doing assignments and paying tuition to the school. Send a registered letter outlining the reason why you want a refund, but don’t count on getting your money back. Don’t list your unaccredited degree on your resume or try to let your employer think your degree is real. If you do, you could experience some negative repercussions.

If you have been sucked into a diploma mill scheme, at the federal level, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. You can go to Federal Trade Commission Complaint and you can report fraud to your state. Consumer Fraud Reporting.Org lists how to contact your state attorney general.


Diploma Mill Degrees Too Good to Be True

How to Spot a Diploma Mill


Beware of diploma mills

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

One Response to “Surviving a ‘diploma mill’”


  1. Georgetown University study: Even in a depression, college grads enjoy advantage « drwilda - August 15, 2012

    […] Surviving a ‘diploma mill’                                      […]

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