Learn to Spot a Phony Degree Mill

Distance learning has become too much of a good thing. Illegal diploma mills have capitalized on the virtues of online education, undermining high-quality distance learning in the process. These fraudulent businesses can succeed because what’s legitimate and what is not is often alarmingly misunderstood, and perfectly reputable professionals have been duped into believing that they can buy a degree in return for very little work. But you can avoid falling victim yourself by learning to spot a diploma mill.

Degree Mill Warning Signs

There are several characteristics of degree mills, with illegitimate schools exhibiting some, if not all, of them. Suspect practices include:

  • Offering students an opportunity to earn or buy a degree based solely or mostly on life experience. While some legitimate schools may allow students to use their professional life experience to count towards some credits, no credible school will allow students to use that experience to fulfill the majority of degree requirements.
  • 24-hour turnaround on applications. Most online schools are quick with acceptances, but any that seems to automatically accept you as a student as soon as you turn in your application should raise a red flag.
  • Online form applications that ask little about previous schools, GPA, or previous transcripts.
  • Promises of degrees in as little as two months or shorter. Overall, if a school promises a degree in a significantly shorter amount of time than it usually takes to complete, that should raise a red flag immediately.
  • Discounted prices and price quotes. If the tuition seems far too low compared to other schools, you should be wary.

The Importance of Accreditation

A legitimate school is often accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-sanctioned accrediting body. That means it continues to meet set academic criteria, and a degree from that school is reputable. A school may advertise itself as accredited, but you should still double check, as those claims may be false, or the school could be accredited by an agency that is not sanctioned. Luckily, the Department of Education hosts a searchable online database of accredited schools. It also publishes a list of sanctioned regional and national accrediting agencies and a list of distance education accreditors. Any others not on a DOE list are unrecognized by the department. However, keep in mind that not all legitimate schools are accredited, as some faith-based institutions and newer programs may not hold accreditation despite being a high-quality school.

Although online degree programs have achieved renewed legitimacy, degree mills still persist. Until everyone knows how and where to find the right information relative to authentic degree granting institutions, there remain risks that they may fall victim to one of these unaccredited institutions.