DAYTON, OHIO, August 5, 2009 - It’s time to head back to school for many students and your Better Business Bureau is warning you against online programs offering fast and easy high school diplomas or college degrees. As millions struggle to find jobs, earning a diploma or an advanced degree is one way to stand out from the crowd, but some students found out diplomas they thought they earned online weren’t worth the paper they were printed on.
Distance learning and online-based classes have become increasingly popular 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 an advanced degree can certainly make a difference when it comes to getting into college or landing a higher-paying job," said John North, BBB president and CEO. "While the Internet facilitates learning through online curriculum, it also makes it easier for scammers to peddle their phony high school diplomas and college degrees."
Your BBB is warning you to be wary of four online diploma mills in particular:
Belford High School and Belford University
Your 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 Belford High School was accredited and more than 99 percent of colleges would accept its diploma. Students paid as much as $674 and earned high school diplomas by taking online tests or 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 phony transcripts claiming they took classes, such as Aromatherapy and Introduction to Aerosol Science.
Most people learned their Belford diplomas and degrees were worthless from college admissions offices or military recruiters and several received the bad news during job interviews.
Jefferson High School Online and Vencer High School Online
Your BBB has received complaints from people in Texas, Ohio and South Carolina who say they passed Jefferson High School Online’s test and paid more than $200 to receive high school diplomas. When students tried to enroll in colleges using the diplomas, they were told they weren’t valid.
The first part of the test is a questionnaire asking 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 students’ elective and life experiences credits.
After students complete the life experience questionnaire, they’re given multiple choice tests in language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. If students answer questions incorrectly, they’re given hints and three more chances to select correct answers from four possible answers given.
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.
Your BBB offers the following red flags to help identify diploma mills:
Always check the organization out with your BBB by visiting www.bbb.org or calling (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301. Also, make sure the college or university you’re 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 Your BBB Serving Dayton and the Miami Valley
Your BBB is an unbiased nonprofit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses earning BBB Accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. Your 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, your 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, 126 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring nearly 4 million local and national businesses and charities. Your BBB serving Dayton and the Miami Valley serves Montgomery, Greene, Clark, Darke, Miami, Preble, Shelby and northern Warren counties. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information about your BBB.