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FAQ Unaccredited Schools and Diploma Mills

Posted in News & Events, News Articles on 07/27/2012

We get questions from clients regularly regarding unaccredited schools and diploma mills.  These are the most common:

What is a diploma mill?
A diploma mill is an organization that awards academic degrees / diplomas with substandard or no academic study and without recognition from by an official educational accrediting body.  Compared to legitimately accredited institutions, diploma mills tend to have drastically lowered requirements for academic coursework, with some even allowing their students to purchase credentials without any education. Students may be required to purchase textbooks, take tests, and submit homework, but degrees are nonetheless conferred after little or no study.

Some diplomas mills also state that they offer G.E.D. certificates online.  G.E.D. tests must be taken in person at an official testing center and are not offered online.  G.E.D. credentials are issued by the state in which the applicant tested and not through any private organizations.

What types of schools are diploma mills?
Diploma mills can operate for high school diplomas, G.E.D.s and for college degrees.  Some schools offer a high school diploma, a Bachelor and a Masters Degree all for one low price!

What is accreditation?  What’s the big deal?
Accreditation is a voluntary method of quality assurance developed more than 100 years ago by American universities and secondary schools, and designed primarily to distinguish schools adhering to a set of educational standards.  Accreditation is recognized as a seal of quality for a school, and while it can be a lengthy and pricey procedure, legitimate schools do undergo the process.

What types of accreditation are there?
In the United States accreditation is set up as six regional boards who oversee the schools in their geographic area.  There are also accreditation boards who oversee distance education, faith-related schools, and specific career programs.   

So if the school is accredited, that means it’s legitimate?
Not necessarily.  Just as there are schools that are diploma mills, there are accrediting agencies that are not recognized.  Many diploma mill schools have come to realize that their consumers are looking for the word “accredited” on their website.  Many of these schools have created their own accreditation agencies or seek out other bogus ones to “accredit” their schools.  In order for a degree / diploma to be recognized for licensing, to go on for higher education, and for many professions, the agency who accredits the school must also be recognized as legitimate.

How do I know the school my applicant attended is legitimate?
There are several things to look for in researching a school’s legitimacy.  The first thing we check is the school’s accreditation.  There are numerous resources available which list accrediting agencies that are both recognized and unrecognized.  We match the school’s claimed accreditation to those lists.  If there are schools who do claim to be accredited by a recognized agency, we then go forward to check their claims through those agencies. 

If the school does not list an accrediting agency, we have a list of nearly 100 things to look for that are tip offs for diploma mills.  Some of the more common ones –
• Degrees that can be earned in less time than at an accredited postsecondary institution, an example would be earning a Bachelor’s degree in a few months.
• A list of accrediting agencies that sounds a little too impressive. Often, these schools will list accreditation by organizations that are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. These schools will also imply official approval by mentioning state registration or licensing.
• Offers that place unrealistic 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. Accredited institutions 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.

Once we determine that a school is a diploma mill, we will contact you to let you know what we found.

Does BackTrack verify diploma mill diplomas or unaccredited schools?
No.  Our policy is not to verify these degrees / diplomas.  We do make a notation in reports either stating that that the school claimed by the applicant is not accredited by a recognized agency or is not accredited.

What is the difference between a diploma mill and an unaccredited school?
Unaccredited institutions are not reviewed against a set of standards to determine the quality of their education and training. This does not necessarily mean that an unaccredited institution is of poor quality, but earning a degree from an unaccredited institution may create problems for students. Some employers, institutions, and licensing boards only recognize degrees earned from institutions accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Diploma mills schools are those that for a fee and with little or no coursework offer degrees.

What about schools outside of the United States?  Is there international accreditation?
There is no one standard of accreditation throughout the world and each country is allowed to set its own standards for schools; however, in general the requirements outside of the United States are similar to those within the U.S.  Many countries outside of the United States have government oversight of schools, and if the school is recognized by the country it can be legitimate.  Unfortunately, there are some countries that do recognize diploma mills, and in some cases, encourage diploma mills to register in their country. 

What should I do if my applicant attended a diploma mill or an unaccredited school?
Some things to consider –
• What are your company policies?
• Is the degree / diploma required for the job? For promotion within the company?
• Is the applicant aware that the school is not accredited by a recognized agency? 
• Does my state have a law that limits the use of these diplomas?

But ultimately this is a question best answered by both you and your legal department. 

For more information on this topic, please contact BackTrack at 800-991-9694.