By Michael W. Ormsby
The Internet offers a lot of options. It offers convenience and personalization. But it’s riddled with fraud: fake e-mails from banks or the IRS, pleas for international assistance promising wealth, and dishonest buyers and sellers on E-bay. Now, online education is blighted with its own scam artists: fake high schools. 39 million Americans need a high school diploma to get better jobs and higher education, and they are becoming victims of websites that prey on their needs.
If you type ‘GED’ into Google, legitimate information resources come up, but the first things you see are probably paid advertisements from ‘high schools’ offering online courses. If you read the fine print they don’t actually offer a GED (despite the ad’s headline), because the GED can’t be taken online. Instead, legitimate-sounding high schools with professional-looking websites offer you a diploma and claim that they’re accredited.
The questions to ask are: What is a diploma? What is accreditation?
A diploma is simply a paper that says you accomplished a certain academic feat: graduated high school, passed the GED, or graduated college. The value of a diploma depends on the academic requirements of the institution awarding it. If the academic requirements of an institution are simply answering a few questions online, a very low value is probably placed on that diploma by employers and colleges.
Accreditation is the other issue. Accreditation means that a school meets certain academic standards created by the educational body that is accrediting it. Again, you need to look at what academic standards are acceptable to the accrediting group. If simply answering a few questions online meets the academic standards of an accrediting group, then the accrediting group is probably not widely accepted by colleges and employers. Colleges and employers want to know that your GED or diploma means you proved your abilities.
Companies that provide diplomas for little or no work are called diploma mills, and their business is basically selling fraudulent diplomas for cash, costing from $200 to upwards of $1,000. Defrauded students lose their money, and they could face serious consequences for using a fake diploma on a job application. William Hillman was lucky that the consequences from his experience weren’t too severe. He spent $225 on a life experience diploma from an online service. “I got the diploma, only it turned out not to be a real one. And they checked up on the school at work, and well, I didn’t get the job [I was trying to get],” he says. “I learned my lesson, if they promise a diploma online they’re a fraud.”
How do you know if an online high school or education service is legitimate? Here are a few simple facts:
1. No legitimate high school diploma can be offered entirely through an online test based on “life experience.”
2. Real online high schools offer 1-year or 2-year programs, never a 1-week or 1-month delivery.
4. Online GED preparation programs can provide a diploma more quickly, but you must take the GED exam administered by your state.
5. The GED exam cannot be taken online.
Legitimate online high schools exist, but sometimes they’re hard to distinguish from fraudulent ones. Ask yourself: Does this school require me to prove my abilities through academic coursework and testing? If I were hiring someone, would I be satisfied that this diploma proved their ability?