What is a diploma mill?
A diploma mill is an unaccredited online institution, usually with no brick-and-mortar presence, that promise prospective students to compensate their previous work experience for a degree. These “institutions” are not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education, the Middle States Association, or the Council on Higher Education. Since the “degrees” they offer are not based on accredited curricula, online courses, and contact with professors or other educators, the degrees are bogus or worthless. They are not accepted by employers and by accredited higher education institutions as legitimate degrees. If a student obtains a degree from a diploma mill, their reputation and professional careers will suffer. Furthermore, if an individual wants to continue into postgraduate studies, an undergraduate degree from a diploma mill will not be valid to apply for graduate school.
How do you recognize a diploma mill?
The Council on Higher Education has several articles that can help prospective students decide whether the online institution they want to enroll in is a diploma mill or a legitimate organization. Diploma mills are characterized by:
• The promise of obtaining an undergraduate or graduate degree without taking classes or doing any coursework. Many diploma mills promise to issue degrees that compensate a student’s “life” or “work experience.”
• They promise unusually short times to acquire a degree. For example, they might claim that the student can obtain a four-year degree in a matter of months.
• They are accredited by accreditation mills. These are bogus institutions, usually invented by the diploma mill, to provide official-sounding accreditation. The diploma mill might claim to be “recognized by” the accreditation entity, but this accreditation entity is not licensed to provide accreditation in the country where the diploma mill is based.
• The diploma mill will not require students to provide their official academic record in order to enroll for a degree.
• Diploma mills lack state or federal licences to operate.
• Diploma mills often list very little to no requirements for graduation.
• Diploma mills do not provide information about a physical address, only a P.O. Box.
• Diploma mills often don’t use the .edu web address.
• Diploma mills could have a name similar to an accredited institution, causing confusion in prospective students.
Beware of any organization that offers to recognize work experience in lieu of an academic degree, college credits, or a diploma without asking for written documentation of previous educational experience. Accredited educational organizations do not work this way. To obtain a legitimate diploma, certificate, or degree from an accredited higher education institution in the United States, and in other countries, it is necessary to enroll formally in a course, take a predetermined amount of college credits, and pass the courses with a minimum established average .
Organizations might offer credit for past work experience and educational background when the individual can offer evidence of such experience and if the organization is clear about its requirements to give college credits under these regulations. A learning institution might, for example, accredit a student a basic-level 101 course if the student presents evidence of excelling at a standardized test, has taken the college course elsewhere, has a portfolio that gives evidence to the student’s abilities, or has a curriculum vitae or résumé that serve as evidence of the student’s knowledge.
If you are considering an online degree and are concerned that your school of choice is a diploma mill, you can verify the identity of the school using the following resources:
- Important Questions about Degree Mills (Council for Higher Education Accreditation): https://www.chea.org/important-questions-about-degree-mills
- Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs: https://ope.ed.gov/dapip/#/home
- Database of Institutions and Programs Accredited by Recognized U.S. Accrediting Organizations: https://www.chea.org/directories
- Better Business Bureau: http://www.bbb.org
- Diploma Mills: https://www2.ed.gov/students/prep/college/diplomamills/diploma-mills.html