Increase your earning power with some cash and a click of the mouse. It may be that easy.
People around the country walk away with diplomas from online schools in a matter of months. And some of them earn more money because of it.
But the degrees they hold may not be worth the paper they're printed on. And you may be picking up the tab.
The Investigators on Eyewitness News 4 show you Degrees for Sale.
(Online commercial: ) "Hi, and welcome to Pacific Western University. You no longer need to sit in a classroom to learn and earn a bachelor, masters or doctorate degree in order to grow and earn more as a professional."
This is an online ad for Pacific Western University. But it may not tell the whole story.
Pacific Western is one of seven schools labeled as a diploma mill by federal investigators at the U.S. General Accounting Office.
Their report was used in a senate investigation this year.
Many online schools are perfectly legitimate. But diploma mills issue degrees sometimes without requiring any student academic work or based solely on "life experience."
The government's investigation found that federal employees had obtained degrees from the online schools, like Pacific Western , with the U.S. government picking up the tab.
"As long as you have a computer and an internet connection you can be a university." Education author John Bear is a former consultant to the FBI task force that cracked down on diploma mills.
"The internet is the fondest, wildest dream of the diploma mills operators come true. Most importantly, they can maintain the fiction that they are a real place," says Bear.
So the investigators set out to find Pacific Western University. We pay a visit to its "campus" located in Los Angeles. We don't find students, classrooms or professors. Only a small office with two receptionists and a man who introduces himself as the dean.
We're handed a small registration packet that boasts successful graduates and high standing faculty. And we're told all course work takes place online.
So we ask how fast we can get a degree to teach in Arizona.
"Often our courses don't meet what the state requires in Arizona."
It won't meet the credentialing requirements for Arizona, this program. But wait a minute.
The Investigators found educators who are teaching right here in Tucson and some of them made more money because of degrees from Pacific Western University.
Dr. David G. Iadevaia teaches at the Pima Community College east campus. Where he's been on the payroll for more than ten years.
While he holds an accredited degree from the University of Rhode Island, he also has a PhD from Pacific Western University.
Pima tells The Investigators the PhD put Iadevaia in to a higher salary bracket. Earning him an extra $32,000 since 1992.
We also talked to PCC about Dr. David R. Bishop, a faculty member at the downtown campus.
While holding credible degrees from two accredited schools, St. Louis University and Loyola University, Bishop also holds a PhD from Pacific Western University.
Because of that PhD, Pima says he's been paid an extra $13,000 since 1997.
We tried interviewing both men about their PhD's, but neither was interested in going on camera. Both say they feel misled by Pacific Western University. And thought the university was a credible school.
Pima Community College conducted their own internal audit of faculty members last July about the same time we began our investigation. They discovered both those professors were using degrees from unaccredited schools.and so revoked their PhD standing, and reduced their salaries.
But PCC is not going to ask the professors to reimburse taxpayers or face any disciplinary action.
The Investigators wanted to know why. PCC authorities say it was the school's responsibility to check these credentials.
Our education expert, John Bear, says human resource departments around the country aren't doing their homework.
Patty Weiss: "What I'm astonished at, is the number of employers who don't check."
John Bear: "Isn't that amazing? That they don't for such an important thing?"
We wanted to know why it took so long for PCC to notice these questionable degrees.
They would only provide a statement, saying the college places a great deal of value on the credentials of its faculty. Adding, that the college has now strengthened the process to assess credentials before hiring and also conducts periodic audits.
And if you have a story for The Investigators, call our hotline at (520) 624-KVOA.