Online Diplomas Can be Worthless Pieces of Paper
August 19, 2009

It’s time to head back to school and Better Business Bureau® advises consumers to research online schools before signing up for a class because not all institutions offering online diplomas or degrees are legitimate

Distance learning and online-based classes are a popular option for students of all ages. According to a 2008 survey by 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.

BBB advises consumers to look out for four specific online diploma mills:

Belford High School and Belford University

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 diplomas by taking online tests or by qualifying through “life experience.”

Belford University offers associate, bachelor’s and advanced degrees based on “life experience” including degrees in nursing, accounting and even a doctorate of medicine degree that cost one complainant $1,400. In addition to receiving a diploma, students received phony transcripts that claim 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. Students enrolling in college using the diploma were told that it was invalid.

The first part of the test 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 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 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 ope.ed.gov/accreditation.

Start With Trust. For more consumer tips and information, visit bbb.org.