A diploma mill is a fraudulent business that disguises itself as a legitimate college, university, or career school. A diploma mill (or "degree mill") will pose as a real university, and award degrees without truly evaluating academic work from its "students." Diploma mills make money by selling printed degrees and providing academic references or falsified transcripts to individuals who may or may not be aware that the credentials are meaningless.
A degree mill may sell degrees at all levels, from bachelor's degrees to doctoral degrees. A degree mill might also allow its customers to pay higher rates for academic honors (like summa cum laude). Degree mills typically attract two types of customers:
Online education is still a fairly new option in the world of colleges and universities. Traditional colleges and online colleges develop new programs every day, according to the career needs of changing student populations. It's difficult to keep track of all the new schools and new degrees that enter the higher education arena. And since Web sites are fast and easy to build, a fraudulent school can create a convincing facade - one that mirrors the look of a legitimate online school.
There are two kinds of diploma mills: those that offer low quality courses, and those that merely sell you a piece of paper with your name on it.
One noteworthy example of a diploma mill involved Brian McNamee, a personal trainer for professional baseball athletes, including Roger Clemens. Reportedly, McNamee earned his doctoral degree from Columbus University, a diploma mill that had operated out of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama.
On its Web site, Columbus University claims to be, "The Established Name in Distance Education," and also claims to be accredited by the Adult Higher Education Alliance. This is a fake accrediting agency.
The Adult Higher Education Alliance is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Education's Web site lists several established accrediting agencies including the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) and the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET).
And there are other indicators that demonstrate Columbus University's illegitimacy. If you look up the registration information of the school's Web site, you can see that they list a third party company rather than a mailing address. This is not typical for a legitimate educational provider. Most schools disclose their complete contact information and mailing addresses with their registration information. Diploma mills have every reason to hide and mask their location, because they sell fraudulent degrees.
Unfortunately, fraudulent schools continue to spread and are increasingly sophisticated in their scams. These diploma mills survive by operating in states that lack strict laws regarding school accreditation, such as California, Utah, Hawaii and Louisiana. They assume identities of well-known schools, or market themselves as a religious organization.
Because of constitutional safeguards, the United States guarantees separation of church and state. Most states are reluctant to pass any laws restricting the activities of churches, including their right to grant degrees. Diploma mills take advantage of this reluctance.
To further protect themselves and to take advantage of less rigorous laws, diploma mills often operate out of multiple political jurisdictions. They sell degrees only in other states or other countries. Many degree mills operate from England, selling fake degrees only to people in other countries, primarily the United States, Africa, and Asia.
It can sometimes be difficult to prove fraud in the case of a diploma mill. In some cases, a diploma mill may immunize itself from prosecution by being forthcoming about its business, fully acknowledging that it is a diploma mill. The individuals that buy degrees from this particular type of diploma mill are fully aware that they are getting a degree without having to complete any academic work. In this case, the diploma mill is arguably acting only as a business.
It is very risky to buy a fake degree, or claim to have a degree without having completed an accredited degree program. Consumers with bogus degrees are liable to find themselves embarrassed professionally, or even out of a job. The most severe consequence is having to face criminal charges. In Oregon, it is illegal to use a degree from an unlicensed institution to get a job or gain a promotion.
If you are looking to enroll in a degree program, it is important to research your online school thoroughly. If you have any doubts about an online program, take the following precautions:
At first glance, diploma mills may be difficult to detect. Their Web sites contain scenic campus photographs and promises of a dedicated faculty. Some diploma mills send vague email advertisements. Typically, the email doesn't mention a college or university name. Most simply state, "earn a degree from a prestigious, non-accredited university," and list only a phone number.
If you respond to a diploma mill ad, the customer representative is likely to deliver some (or all) of these sales pitches:
But not that fast. Don't confuse accelerated degrees (which are offered by many legitimate online schools) with instant degrees (which are fake.)
Many online schools offer students the ability to earn their degree at an accelerated rate. Earning your MBA in as little as 10 months, for instance, is not an uncommon feature of online business colleges. But this does not mean less work. Rather, it means the online format allows you to participate in online classes, lectures, and projects as quickly as you can properly complete the required assignments.
If you encounter a school that offers you an "instant degree" or anything similar, you're looking at a scam. Any worthwhile degree will involve the completion of specific courses. Each course should involve new content lessons, graded assignments and/or graded exams.
If you have any persisting doubts, move on. There are a lot of schools out there. Most have them have quality programs to offer. You can also rest assured that the colleges and universities listed on our site are, without exception, well-respected and well-known. We have established, active relationships with all of them. So if you find a program on our Web site, you can trust that it is reputable.