Choose Colleges Wisely and Beware of Diploma Mills

August 05, 2014

Enrollment in online courses rises, BBB warns avoid faulty degree programs

DENVER – Those pursuing post-secondary education are faced with many options for degree and certification programs, and the Better Business Bureau of Denver/Boulder warns students to choose carefully. One area of significant growth during the past decade is online colleges and courses, which the BBB says can be confused with disreputable degree programs such as diploma mills.

“College is a significant investment and commitment so students should choose institutions they can trust,” said Su Hawk, president and CEO for the BBB of Denver/Boulder.

Diploma or degree mills are unregulated institutions granting degrees with few or no academic requirements, which make those degrees practically useless in the workforce, military, university setting or when applying for the Dream Act. Colleges and universities accredited by legitimate organizations undergo a rigorous review of the quality of their educational programs. The same is true of high schools. Although many diploma mills claim to be “accredited,” their accreditation is from a bogus, but official-sounding agency they created.

The BBB encourages students to always make sure the college or university they are enrolling in is accredited from one of the regional accreditation boards. The U.S. Department of Education has a searchable database of accredited post-secondary schools at Also check the organization at to see how it handles business transactions, and find BBB Accredited institutions at

The BBB offers the following red flags to help identify online diploma mills:

  • No studies, no exams, get a degree for your experience. Diploma mills grant degrees for “work or life experience” alone. Accredited colleges may give credits for specific experience pertinent to a degree program, but not an entire degree.
  • No attendance. Legitimate colleges or universities, including online schools, require substantial course work.
  • Flat fee. Many diploma mills charge on a per-degree basis. Legitimate colleges charge by the credit, course, or semester, not a flat fee for an entire degree.
  • No waiting. Operations that guarantee a degree in a few days, weeks, or even months aren’t legitimate. If an ad promises that you can earn a degree very quickly, it’s probably a diploma mill.
  • Click here to order now! Some diploma mills push themselves through aggressive sales tactics. Accredited colleges don’t use spam or high-pressure telemarketing to market themselves.
  • Advertising through spam or pop-ups. If the school caught your attention through an unsolicited email or pop-up ad, it may be a diploma mill. Legitimate institutions, including distance learning programs, won’t advertise through spam or pop-ups.

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About the BBB

The BBB is an unbiased nonprofit 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. The BBB provides objective advice, BBB Business Reviews, BBB Charity Reports and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, your BBB also offers dispute resolution services for consumers and businesses. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, there are 112 local, independent BBBs across the U.S. and Canada. Please visit for more information.