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Identifying Diploma Mills

Posted by Michael Jarvis on Mar 8, 2014 5:37:19 AM

Online schools and distance learning courses are becoming increasingly popular with people who want to earn their degree and diploma with more ease and convenience than a traditional school environment. Diploma mills are cashing in on this popularity and can present a problem for employers trying to verify an applicant’s or employee’s degree. Background screening is an important tool for identifying “fake” degrees awarded by diploma mills.

Webster’s Third International Dictionary defines a diploma mill 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.” Diploma mills also grant false high school diplomas and GEDs.

Diploma mills have distinct characteristics that set them apart from nationally accredited schools and universities. Employers need to watch for the following red flags when verifying a degree or diploma:

Degrees can be earned in a significantly shorter time than a traditional school.

      Diploma mills advertise their degree can be earned in as little as a few days to a few months. An online degree earned from an accredited college takes between two to five years depending on the type of degree.


Tuition is calculated per degree.
Degrees from diploma mills can range from $50 to $5,000 for a high school diploma up to a doctorate. Accredited schools charge by the course or unit.

The diploma mill’s name is similar to the name of a well-known accredited school.
Cal Southern University is a diploma mill that operates out of Houston TX and is registered in the South Pacific. It is not affiliated with the accredited University of Southern California and California Southern University.

The degree awarded is based on “life experience.”
Some diploma mills review a resume, transferring life and work experience into the entire degree, without any coursework. Others may require a short exam or essay to be submitted.

The school is not accredited by a national or regional accreditation agency.
Diploma mills may provide a long list of accreditations that sound authentic. An accreditation is only valid if it recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Accreditation.

Most diploma mills offer a way to verify the degree and even provide an authentic looking degree on high-quality paper with official-looking seals. Some diploma mills were issued an .edu address before the U.S. Department of Commerce created its current requirements, so an .edu web address is not enough evidence to dismiss the school as a diploma mill.

If there is any doubt regarding the credibility of a degree or school, consult the U.S. Department of Education’s website. The site provides a list of schools that are recognized as nationally accredited institutes and additional information about diploma mills.

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