Avoid Graduation Day Hassles: Diploma Mill Scams

August 12, 2014

Forbes recently released their list of America’s Top Colleges 2014. Several schools in San Diego County and Orange County made the list, which encompasses the top 650 colleges (for reference, there are currently more than 7,000 colleges operating in the U.S.). Below are the rankings for all the San Diego and Orange County schools that made the cut.

123. University of Redlands

126. University of California, San Diego

144. University of California, Irvine

223. University of San Diego

262. San Diego State University

321. Chapman University

338. California State University, Fullerton

417. University of La Verne

454. Azuza Pacific University

474. Vanguard University of Southern California

The rankings are determined by a number of factors including student satisfaction, post-graduate success, graduation rate, and academic success. The methodology can be found here, and the entire list of Top Colleges can be found here.

For many students and parents, financial aid is the most pressing concern when it comes to picking a college. 35 percent of students reported that their biggest worry about college was the debt they would accumulate in getting their degree, according to the Princeton Review. However, 51 percent saw “potentially better job/higher income” as the main benefit of their diploma.

Essentially, the majority of students know that they need a diploma, but they worry about how to pay for it. Unfortunately, this causes many students to turn their backs to schools like those listed above and take a shortcut, using for-profit “diploma mills.”

These diploma mills claim that in exchange for a flat fee, you can earn credits based on your “life experience,” and do little to no actual coursework. But the diploma they give you is little more than a piece of paper, and trying to use it as a legitimate degree could land you in trouble. You might never get hired, you could get fired, and in some cases, you could even be prosecuted.

BBB serving San Diego, Orange and Imperial Counties is here with a few of the red flags to keep an eye out for signs of a diploma mill scam:

Are they accredited by a real organization? Diploma mills will often claim to be accredited, when many times the organization they claim to be accredited by doesn’t actually exist. If you find that the school is “Accredited by the Official U.S. Government Education Secretary” or some other official-sounding agency, go look it up. In many cases, they may also claim to be accredited by an actual organization. To verify, go to the organization’s site and look up the school’s accreditation.

Do they use the words “no attendance,” or “no exams”? Real universities and colleges require a substantial amount of coursework in order to receive your degree. Generally, they will also require some measure of interaction with your professor, even for online classes. Be wary of colleges that claim you don’t need either of these things to earn your degree – it may be a scam. Additionally, if they promise “no waiting” or claim you can get your degree in just a few weeks or months, you shouldn’t pursue it any further.  

How did you find them? If you found their website because they emailed you an advertisement or you clicked on a pop-up ad, it’s probably not real. While legitimate colleges do try and recruit students through email marketing tactics, diploma mills will emphasize the ease of getting a degree with them, along with the urgency to “order now!”

Are there any complaints filed with the BBB? Check your local BBB’s website and see if there are any complaints filed against them. But be cautious - just because nothing’s been filed doesn’t mean it’s a real school. You’ll also want to research the school using other databases, like the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

If you have any questions regarding the legitimacy of a school or organization, give us a call at 858-496-2131.  For more tips on avoiding education scams, follow our BBBlog.