A diploma mill may derail your dreams

3 Jul

Many people are unemployed or underemployed and they seek additional education to improve their employment chances. Not all education opportunities will benefit one’s future and diploma mills may derail your future prospects. Scott Mc Lemee wrote in the Inside Higher Education article, A Degree of Fraud:

It’s surprising how many house pets hold advanced degrees. Last year, a dog received his M.B.A. from the American University of London, a non-accredited distance-learning institution. It feels as if I should add “not to be confused with the American University in London,” but getting people to confuse them seems like a pretty basic feature of the whole AUOL marketing strategy.
The dog, identified as “Peter Smith” on his diploma, goes by Pete. He was granted his degree on the basis of “previous experiential learning,” along with payment of £4500. The funds were provided by a BBC news program, which also helped Pete fill out the paperwork. The American University of London required that Pete submit evidence of his qualifications as well as a photograph. The applicant submitted neither, as the BBC website explains, “since the qualifications did not exist and the applicant was a dog.”
The program found hundreds of people listing AUOL degrees in their profiles on social networking sites, including “a senior nuclear industry executive who was in charge of selling a new generation of reactors in the UK.” (For more examples of suspiciously credentialed dogs and cats, see this list.)
Inside Higher Ed reports on diploma mills and fake degrees from time to time but can’t possibly cover every revelation that some professor or state official has a bogus degree, or that a “university” turns out to be run by a convicted felon from his prison cell. Even a blog dedicated to the topic, Diploma Mill News http://diplomamillnews.blogspot.com/ , links to just a fraction of the stories out there. Keeping up with every case is just too much; nobody has that much Schaudenfreude in them…. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/01/29/mills#sthash.KUHA4NFD.dpbs

Jennifer Williamson wrote, 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.
http://www.distance-education.org/Articles/Six-Signs-Your-Online-School-is-a-Diploma-Mill-30.html#.T5RbdgbZ8tI.email

Ulinks has 16 Key Questions to Ask a Vocational School http://www.ulinks.com/vocationalschools-tradeschools.htm

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…. standards. http://dhe.mo.gov/ppc/diplomamills.php

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 “diploma mill.”

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. http://www.elearners.com/online-education-resources/degrees-and-programs/diploma-mills/

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 Distance-Education.org wrote 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. http://www.distance-education.org/Articles/What-to-Do-If-You-re-Enrolled-in-a-Diploma-Mill-220.html

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 http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0206-diploma-mills and you can report fraud to your state. Consumer Fraud Reporting.Org lists how to contact your state attorney general. http://www.consumerfraudreporting.org/stateattorneygenerallist.php

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.

Resources:
Diploma Mill Degrees Too Good to Be True http://www.cmn.com/2012/06/diploma-mill-degrees-too-good-to-be-true/

How to Spot a Diploma Mill
http://www.onlinecollegedegrees.net/avoiding-cheap-education

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