Tucson, AZ – July 27, 2009 – Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona is warning consumers of Jefferson High School Online (JHSO), an unaccredited, Nogales-based online high school offering high school diplomas based partly on life experience.
BBB has received three complaints, two of which are unanswered, in the last three months from consumers in Texas, Ohio, and South Carolina who say they passed JHSO’s online test and paid over $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.
“I found them online and I thought it was legit,” said Debra Harris, a student in Houston, who completed and paid for a JHSO diploma. “I tried to use it to get into a college and they said they weren’t accredited and it wasn’t good for anything.”
James Phillips, a student from Portsmouth, Ohio said he felt deceived when he tried to use his JHSO diploma to apply at Colorado Technical University and his advisor told him JHSO had been “red flagged” by the college.
“They told me I couldn’t start classes with that diploma, it’s no good,” Phillips said. “You look at the diploma and it looks exactly like a normal diploma, just with a different name.”
Bill Ahmed, a Career Counselor at Colorado Technical University, said illegitimate online high schools or “diploma mills” often use similar names to actual high schools to fool students and colleges into thinking they’re legitimate.
“We have an entire list of schools that we’ve red flagged,” Ahmed said. “If a student applies using a diploma from one of those schools it will pop up in our system.”
A BBB investigation found that JHSO advertisements often appear as sponsored links on Google or Yahoo! under the search phrase “high school diploma.” If prospective students click on the sponsored link it takes them to JHCO’s website, where they are prompted to take a free test to qualify for a high school diploma.
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, how often they read, and how physically active they are. JHSO’s website 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.
Students can take the test for free, but once they finish the test JHSO charges $200 for an “official JHSO diploma” and “official JHSO transcripts.”
JHSO is owned by MMDS Ltd., based out of St. Kitts, a small country in the eastern Caribbean. They have a physical office in Sonora, Mexico and have a PostNet drop box in Nogales, Arizona located at 411 N. Grand Ave. STE 4-32 85621; the company’s Website, www.jeffersonhighschoolonline.com, is privately registered in Scottsdale.
MMDS Ltd. also operates a website called Vencer High School Online. Besides using a different name, the site is an exact replica of JHSO, and offers the same services.
BBB along with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offer these tips to students who are considering completing their high school diploma or college degrees online:
- While there are legitimate online high school diploma programs, check with your local community college to make sure the program you’re considering is accredited and accepted by colleges and vocational schools.
- Watch out for websites that grant degrees/diplomas for “work or life experience” alone. Accredited schools may give a few credits for specific experience pertinent to a degree program, but not an entire degree.
- Operations that guarantee a degree/diploma in a few days, weeks, or even months aren’t legitimate. If an ad promises that you can earn either very quickly, it’s probably a diploma mill.
- Always research the company with BBB at www.tucson.bbb.org or by calling 520-888-5353.
- Accredited schools don’t use spam or high-pressure tactics to market themselves. Some diploma mills aggressively advertise in newspapers, magazines, and on the Web.
- Pima Community College (PCC) offers a high school diploma program for students ages 14-21, who want to complete a full high school diploma rather than testing for a GED. PCC charges students $90 to take the GED exam after they complete and pass a free practice test.
- More information about online schools and diploma mills is available through the FTC’s Website www.ftc.gov, or by calling 1-800-FTC-HELP.