What are Diploma Mills?
Diploma mills are commonly defined as institutions that operate either illegally or without supervision by proper educational oversight authorities. They grant diplomas that are either not valid (due to the lack of quality assurance) or fraudulent. Because business is the most commonly offered degree field by institutions that can be considered diploma mills, it is especially important for prospective business students to be on guard, particularly when looking for a school outside of their home nation, state, or province. Many such institutions count on students’ lack of familiarity with educational systems in other countries and even sometimes within their own country. Thus, it is important to be able to recognize the telltale signs of a diploma mill when searching for a business degree.
Signs of a Possible Diploma Mill
- Credit for Life Experience: Diploma mills frequently offer degrees based largely or even solely on credit for “work experience,” “life experience,” or “recognition of prior learning.” Properly accredited colleges may give a few credits for specific experience pertinent to a degree program, but never for an entire degree.
- Little to No Work Required: Diploma mills rarely require actual attendance or significant coursework, particularly if marketing themselves as online or distance learning institutions. Valid institutions, including those that operate online or via distance learning, will always require a substantial amount of coursework to earn a degree.
- Tailor-Made Study Programs: Diploma mills frequently offer degree programs or majors that are “self-designed” by the student, generally with little to no faculty oversight or approval required.
- Guaranteed Time to Graduate: Diploma mills often guarantee or even require that students earn their degrees in a certain amount of time. Frequently this is significantly less time than would be required at a valid institution. Alternatively, diploma mills may offer to “back-date” a degree, allowing students to show that it was earned at some point in time, even if this is before the student was actually enrolled.
- Flat Fees for Degrees: Valid institutions generally publish tuition fees by the credit hour, semester, quarter, course, etc. By contrast, diploma mills often quote a flat fee for an entire degree program (typically payable up front).
- No Physical Campus Facilities: Institutions with only an office suite or P.O. Box address are a big red flag, as are those that include no physical address whatsoever. A favorite tactic of diploma mills is to base operations within areas of other higher education operations that have little to no oversight. For example, this can be a common practice in war-torn or developing nations in Africa (such as often happens in Liberia), or small island nations and territories in the Oceania or Caribbean.
- No Course Syllabi Available: Valid institutions most often post syllabi or course descriptions for their various degree programs. Diploma mills, on the other hand, typically only have simple course lists with little to no description or indication of how they progress.
- No Contact Information Available for Specific Persons: Though multiple email addresses may be present, diploma mills rarely offer direct access to any specific individual.
- No Listed Faculty Members or Faculty Qualifications: A common red flag for diploma mills is the complete lack of any information regarding faculty that teach at the institution.
- Deceptively Similar Names: A very common tactic for diploma mills is to take a name that is very similar to a valid, prestigious, or publicly known institution. The objective is to confuse the consumer.
- Questionable Authority to Grant Degrees: This is one of the two most evident red flags. Valid institutions generally make it clear exactly where their authority to grant degrees comes from, be it a national Ministry of Education or officially recognized accrediting body for higher education institutions (such as the six regional accreditors in the U.S., or BAN-PT, the national higher education accreditation board in Indonesia). If an institution claims to be “licensed” in a U.S. state, but does not have regional accreditation be cautious.
- Lack of Accreditation from a Recognized Body: This is another major red flag. Diploma mills will frequently use official-sounding terms (which mean little in terms of educational quality) in order to impress potential students, or claim the approval of official-sounding agencies (which may or may not be real). Be especially on guard if the institution claims to be “authenticated,” “verified,” “licensed,” “internationally approved,” “notarized,” “recognized by the Pope,” or “accredited by” agencies that may be legitimate, but have nothing to do with proper authorization to grant degrees or quality assurance. Alternatively, they may devote a web page to explaining why not having accreditation is normal, or no big deal.
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