As the concept of earning a degree without leaving home becomes more accepted, the most virtual of virtual universities - better know as digital diploma mills - are gaining enrollees. Many fraudulent diploma mills are capitalizing on the growth in popularity of distance learning opportunities and are using the freedom of the Internet to lure students into their “programs.”
Diploma mills have existed for decades. They often operate out of phone boiler rooms with high-pressure telemarketers who follow up e-mail requests and web site visits with an aggressive enrollment approach via the telephone. They are known to advertise heavily in magazines, on the Internet in newsgroups, and at impressive-looking web sites. In many cases they prey on people’s lack of knowledge and confusion about accreditation. And, they often advertise widely as being “fully accredited”, “nationally accredited”, or “accredited worldwide.” If these diploma mills are accredited, it is usually by unrecognized or even bogus agencies.
How can you tell the difference between legitimate online universities and diploma mills? The Better Business Bureau suggests you do some homework and watch for these red flags:
- Degrees that can be earned in less time than at a traditional college
- A list of accrediting agencies that sounds a little too impressive. Some schools list accreditation by organizations that are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, or imply official approval by mentioning of state “registration” or licensing. When in doubt check with the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (www.chea.org).
- Offers that place heavy emphasis on offering college credits for lifetime or real world experience.
- Tuition paid on a per-degree basis, or discounts for enrolling in multiple degree programs. Traditional colleges charge by credit hours, course, or semester.
- Little or no interaction with professors.
- Names that are similar to well known reputable universities.
- Addresses that are box numbers or suites. That campus may very well be a mail drop box or someone’s attic.
If you still have doubts, contact your Better Business Bureau or state attorney general’s office to make sure the school is operating legally in a state and to see if anyone has filed a complaint. A bogus degree from a diploma mill is not likely to impress prospective employers and could be a complete waste of money.