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Central & South Alabama
BBB Warns Your Online Diploma Could be a Worthless Piece of Paper
August 27, 2009

BBB Warns Your Online Diploma Could be a Worthless
Piece of Paper
Don’t fall for the promise of quick and easy credentials

Central Alabama – August 4, 2009 - It’s time to head back to school for many students and Better Business Bureau is warning consumers against online programs that offer fast and easy high school diplomas or college degrees. As millions struggle to find a job, earning a diploma or an advanced degree is one way to stand out from the crowd, but some students found out the hard way that the diploma they thought they earned online wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

Distance learning and online-based classes have become an increasingly popular option for students of all ages. According to a 2008 survey from the Sloan Consortium and Babson Survey Research Group, 3.9 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in 2007, a 12 percent increase over the previous year. More than 20 percent of higher education students were taking at least one online course. Unfortunately, not all institutions offering online diplomas or degrees are legitimate and individuals looking to get ahead are being duped by diploma mills.

“Education is one of the keys to advancing in life and having a diploma or advanced degree can certainly make a difference when it comes to getting into college or landing a higher-paying job,” said David Smitherman, BBB President & CEO. “While the Internet facilitates learning through online curriculum, it also makes it easier for scammers to shill their phony high school diplomas and college degrees.”

BBB is warning consumers to be wary of four online diploma mills in particular:

Belford High School and Belford University
The BBB serving Houston has received 117 complaints from students in more than 40 states who paid for high school diplomas and advanced degrees from BelfordHighschool.com and BelfordUniversity.org.

Students were led to believe that Belford High School was accredited and that more than 99 percent of colleges would accept its diploma. Students paid as much as $674 and earned their high school diploma by taking an online test or by qualifying through “life experience.”

Belford University offers associate, bachelors and advanced degrees based on “life experience” including degrees in nursing, accounting, and even a Doctorate of Medicine degree which cost one complainant $1,400. In addition to receiving a diploma, students also received a phony transcript that claims they took classes such as Aromatherapy and Introduction to Aerosol Science.

Most people learned that their Belford diplomas and degrees were worthless from college admissions offices or military recruiters and several received the bad news during a job interview.

Jefferson High School Online and Vencer High School Online
BBB has received complaints from consumers in Texas, Ohio, and South Carolina who say they passed Jefferson High School Online’s test and paid more than $200 to receive a high school diploma. When the students tried to enroll in college using the diploma they were told that it was not valid.

The first part of the test is a questionnaire that asks students several “life experience” questions, including what type of music they like, how often they listen to music or read and how physically active they are. Jefferson High School Online’s Web site says the answers on this portion of the test will count toward the students “elective and life experiences credits.”

After students complete the life experience questionnaire they are given a multiple choice test in language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. If a student answers a question incorrectly they are given a hint, and three more chances to select the correct answer from the four possible answers given for each question.

Jefferson High School Online is owned by MMDS Ltd., based out of St. Kitts, a small country in the eastern Caribbean. MMDS Ltd. also operates a Web site called Vencer High School Online. Aside from using a different name, the site is an exact replica of Jefferson High School, and offers the same services.

BBB cites the following red flags to help identify diploma mills:

· Degrees or diplomas are awarded based on “life experience” and require very little or no work.

· The institution guarantees you will receive a degree or diploma within a few days, weeks or months.

· The institution offers deals if you sign up to receive more than one degree at a time, such as a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree for one low price.

· Addresses for administration buildings include P.O. boxes or suite numbers.

· Prices are stated per degree instead of per credit hour.

Always check the organization out with your BBB online at www.bbb.org and make sure the college or university you are enrolling in is accredited from one of the six regional accreditation boards. The U.S. Department of Education has a searchable database of accredited post-secondary schools at: http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation.

About BBB Serving Central Alabama & the Wiregrass:
BBB is an unbiased non-profit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. Incorporated locally in 1955, today your BBB services 41 counties in Central Alabama, supported by over 3,800 Accredited Businesses. BBB provides objective advice, free business BBB Reliability ReportsTM and charity BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 125 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring nearly 4 million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information about BBB.