Diploma mills have capitalized on the popularity and growth of legitimate online educational programs. Just when it appeared as though distance learning was gaining some respect in higher education as well as with business and industry, diploma mills reared their ugly heads. Distance learning is geared toward the working adult professional seeking a career advantage. Diploma mills have managed to dupe an alarming number who buy the pitch that life experience and work experience may quickly convert to “credit” earned toward a college degree. Others have purposely pursued the easy track to a cut-rate degree for the main purpose of getting ahead with little work.
In 2004, a rather public federal investigation designed to root out federal employees with fake degrees surprised everyone: 463 employees listed degrees from just one of several surveyed unaccredited institutions, and some of those were actually paid for by the federal government. Following this revelation, the public at large has grown skeptical of online degrees, including reputable schools, so skeptical that one study suggests that 55% of employers prefer to hire new employees with only traditional degrees.
Diploma mills and fake degree suppliers sell any and all types of degrees including Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D., and in almost any field. Even consumers shopping for a medical degree may buy one if the price is right. The best examples come with degree verification services and may sound very much like one of the well-known colleges. For example, Radford University is a small, very well respected institution in Virginia. Randford University is an unaccredited and alleged diploma mill also in Virginia. If you don’t think it’s working the name game, guess again. This is a primary tactic of some of the bolder diploma mills.
A secondary problem has been the trust imparted higher education. But everything has not been what it seems. Once the term “accredited” stood for a high-quality education. But even accreditation has been tainted with an air of phony and bogus. Accreditation mills are the latest offspring of degree mills. What most employers don’t yet know is that the Department of Education maintains a list of national and regional accreditation agencies, as well as distance learning accreditors. Any others are not to be trusted, period.
A news writer reported she applied for a Ph.D. from Ashwood University, an alleged diploma mill in Washington state. With only a resume as “application” she was approved for the degree in exchange for a fee. The Ph.D. was in civil engineering. The degree could have been used to put her into a potentially lucrative job where the safety of others matters.
Ashwood University advertises degrees in “what you already know.” Within two minutes time, this institution claims to be able to tell you what level of degree you may earn. Professionals end up with degrees from Early Childhood Education to Accounting.
The truly misleading information is the supposed “accreditation.” AU lists the agencies Board of Online Universities Accreditation and World Online Education Accrediting Commission. Not surprisingly, neither one makes the Department of Education’s list of recognized distance learning accreditors. This means that among the legitimate higher education institutions, this type of accreditation means nothing.
There are dozens more where Ashwood comes from. Diploma mills are almost carbon copies of each other, examples of effective online marketing if nothing else.
Sophisticated printing equipment, watermarked paper, and even exact copies of university seals are making the business more accurate. When Canadian officials busted a band of ID counterfeiters, they found extremely technical equipment and replicas of notable college degrees that would confound university officials. This is the future of fake degrees. This sophistication is how many professionals end up in business and industry, but it also fuels the skepticism that keeps real online degrees down.