Are you ever tempted by an email or an ad claiming you can
“earn a college degree based on life experience?” Do not be! Chances are good
that the ad is for a “diploma mill,” a company that offers:
“Degrees” or “certificates” for a flat fee.
Requires little course work, if any.
Awards degrees based solely on life experience.
Most employers and educational institutions consider it
lying if you claim academic credentials that you did not earn through actual
course work. The Bureau of Consumer Protection warns that it is risky behavior.
If you use a so-called “degree” from a diploma mill to apply for a job or
promotion you risk not getting hired, getting fired, and in some cases
Diploma mills may claim to be “accredited”
Colleges, universities, and high school equivalency programs accredited by legitimate
organizations undergo a rigorous review of the quality of their educational
programs. Although many diploma mills claim to be “accredited,” their
accreditation is from a bogus, but official sounding agency that they created.
The U.S. Department of Education posts schools on the Internet
that are accredited by a legitimate organization at: ope.ed.gov/accreditation
The Wisconsin Educational Approval Board (EAB) is an
independent state agency responsible for protecting Wisconsin consumers by
regulating and monitoring:
For-profit, post-secondary schools.
Non-profit colleges and universities.
In-state, non-profit institutions incorporated after January
Contact the EAB to check on their Approved Schools
Directory: (608) 266-1996, Ext. 5; dspseap.wi.gov
The National Association of State Administrators and
Supervisors of Private Schools provide contact information for state licensing
agencies as well as links to many of them: www.nasasps.org
Degree.net offers simple questions to ask about accreditation
and earning unaccredited degrees: www.degree.net
Look out for sound-alikes
Some diploma mills take on names that are very similar to
well-known colleges or universities. A “dot edu” Web address is no guarantee of
legitimacy. Keep in mind that some diploma mills use credible sounding foreign
names. Researching the legitimacy of a foreign school can be a challenge, but
is clearly worth the time. If you are having a tough time checking out a
particular school, call the registrar of a local college or university and ask
if it would accept transfer credits from the school you are considering.
Here are some tell-tale signs of a diploma mill:
No studies, no exams – Get a degree for your experience
Diploma mills grant degrees for “work or life experience”
alone. Accredited colleges may give a few credits for specific experience
pertinent to a degree program, but not an entire degree.
Legitimate colleges or universities, including online
schools, require substantial course work.
Many diploma mills charge on a per-degree basis. Legitimate
colleges charge by the credit, course, or semester, not a flat fee for an
Operations that guarantee a degree in a few days, weeks, or
even months are not legitimate. If an ad promises that you can earn a degree
very quickly, it is probably a diploma mill.
Some diploma mills push themselves through aggressive sales
tactics. Accredited colleges do not use spam or high-pressure telemarketing to
market themselves. Some diploma mills also advertise in newspapers, magazines,
and on the web.
Advertising through spam or pop-ups
If the school caught your attention through an unsolicited
email or pop-up ad, it may be a diploma mill. Legitimate institutions,
including distance learning programs, will not advertise through spam or