From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaA diploma mill (also known as a degree mill) is an organization that awards academic degrees and diplomas with substandard or no academic study and without recognition by official educational accrediting bodies. The purchaser can then claim to hold an academic degree, and the organization is motivated by making a profit. These degrees are often awarded based on vaguely construed life experience. Some such organizations claim accreditation by non-recognized/unapproved accrediting bodies set up for the purposes of providing a veneer of authenticity. Some degree mills have slipped through the (CHEA) government regulated education system due to lack of funding and/or proper house and congregational monitoring.
While the terms "degree mill" and "diploma mill" are commonly used interchangeably, within the academic community a distinction is sometimes drawn:
- A degree mill provides a "real" degree from a fake college.
- A diploma mill provides a fake degree from a real college.
 Common attributes of diploma millsDiploma mills are frequently named to sound confusingly similar to those of prestigious accredited academic institutions. Despite the fact that trademark law is intended to prevent this situation, diploma mills continue to employ various methods to avoid legal recourse. An example of this is Thomas James Kirk's LaSalle University. In their marketing and advertising campaigns, the mills will often misleadingly claim to be "accredited" when, in fact, many are found to have been endorsed by "dummy" accreditation boards set up by company affiliates. In an attempt to appear more legitimate to potential students, accreditation mills based in the United States may model their websites after real accrediting agencies overseen by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Some may even advertise services for transcript notation and diploma verification in order to seem more legitimate. Another typical ploy is for mills to claim to be internationally recognized by organizations such as UNESCO. UNESCO, however, does not possess the mandate to accredit or recognize institutions of higher education or their programs and diplomas. As diploma mills are typically also licensed to do business, it is common practice within the industry to misuse their business license to imply government approval.
Compared to legitimately accredited institutions, diploma mills tend to have drastically lowered requirements for academic coursework, with some even allowing their students to purchase credentials without any education. Students may be required to purchase textbooks, take tests, and submit homework, but degrees are nonetheless conferred after little or no study.
Buyers often use the diplomas to claim academic credentials for use in securing employment (e.g., a schoolteacher may buy a degree from a diploma mill in order to advance to superintendent). Some diploma mills claim to be based outside the country they market to. This is common with "offshore" jurisdictions.
 CharacteristicsDiploma mills share a number of characteristics that differentiate them from respected institutions, although some legitimate institutions can also exhibit one or more such characteristics. Some common characteristics are:
- They lack accreditation by a nationally recognized accrediting agency, although not all unaccredited institutions of higher learning are diploma mills. Some diploma mills claim accreditation by an accreditation mill while referring to themselves as being "fully accredited". Some institutions base their assertions of academic legitimacy on claims of affiliation with respected organizations (such as UNESCO) that are not engaged in school accreditation. Promotional materials may use words denoting a legal status such as "licensed", "state authorized", or "state-approved" to suggest an equivalence to accreditation. Some advertise other indicators of authenticity that are not relevant to academic credentials. For example, the University of Northern Washington advertises that its degrees are "attested and sealed for authenticity by a government appointed notary" although notarization certifies only that the document was signed by the person named.
- No teaching facilities — the address is a postal box or mail forwarding service or suite numbers.
- Getting a degree requires no visits to the school or other face-to-face meetings with its personnel. Theses or credits can be approved on a mail-order basis. There are, however, many distance education institutions that are not diploma mills.
- There is little or no interaction with professors. Even if comments and corrections to coursework are given, they do not affect getting the degree. The professors may serve only to write compliments to the "student" that can be given as references.
- Name of institution is deceptively similar to well known reputable universities.
- Degrees can be obtained within a few days, weeks or months from the time of enrollment, and back-dating is possible.
- Either there are no faculty members or they hold advanced degrees from the institution itself or from other diploma mills. They may also sport legitimate degrees that are, however, unrelated to the subject they teach.
- Academic credit is offered for "life experience," and this is featured heavily in the selling points of the institution.
- Tuition and fees are charged on a per-degree basis rather than on a per-term or per-course basis.
- Prospective students are encouraged to "enroll now" before tuition or fees are increased, or they qualify for a "fellowship", "scholarship" or "grant" or they're offered deals to sign up for multiple degrees at the same time.
- The institution has no library, personnel, publication or research. In short, very little that is tangible can be found about the "institution".
- Doctoral theses and dissertations are not available from University Microfilms International or a national repository or even the institution's own library, if it has one.
- Promotional literature contains grammatical and spelling errors, words in Latin, extravagant or pretentious language, and sample diplomas. The school's website looks amateurish or unprofessionally made.
- The school is situated in the United States but the website does not have an .edu top-level domain. However, an .edu domain cannot be taken as verification of school quality or reputation, as enforcement has sometimes been lax, resulting in some unaccredited schools retaining an .edu domain prior to any enforcement policy. Similarly, some non-US mills use a .ac top-level domain name (for Ascension Island) to give the impression of a genuine second-level academic domain name (e.g. .ac.uk). However, some legitimate academic institutions have registered .ac domains to prevent misuse of their names.
- The school is advertised using e-mail spam (unsolicited electronic mail) or other questionable methods.
- Jurisdiction shopping: the school is situated in another country or legal jurisdiction, where running diploma mills is legal, standards are lax or prosecution is unlikely, such as in British Columbia, Canada. This also includes a number of jurisdictions in the United States. Splitting the business across jurisdictions is a way to sometimes avoid authorities, e.g., operating in one jurisdiction but using the mailing address in a different jurisdiction. Compare forum shopping and tax haven.
- Despite being situated in such a diploma mill-friendly country, the school has no students from that country, and is run entirely by non-native staff.
- In most of the European Union, tertiary education is free of charge to students who pass highly competitive entrance examinations. In this environment, schools that have a tuition fee, lack entrance requirements, and are possibly based in another country, may be diploma mills; particularly when they match other criteria in this list.
- Unusual academic subjects. Instead of "hard sciences", where competence is easier to verify, the subjects are esoteric and may be based on a pseudoscience, e.g. astrology, natural healing, and religious literature. This makes external verification impossible, because when they define their science, they can also define the educational standards without external oversight.
 Legal considerationsDegrees and diplomas issued by diploma mills have been used to obtain employment, raises, or clients. Even if issuing or receiving a diploma mill qualification is legal, passing it off as an accredited one for personal gain is a crime in many jurisdictions. In some cases the diploma mill may itself be guilty of an offense, if it knew or ought to have known that the qualifications it issues are used for fraudulent purposes. Diploma mills could also be guilty of fraud if they mislead customers into believing that the qualifications they issue are accredited or recognized, or make false claims that they will lead to career advancement, and accept money on the basis of these claims.
Some unaccredited institutions include disclaimers in respect of accreditation in the small print of their contracts.
Fake degrees are risky for buyers and consumers, says John Bear, a distance learning and diploma mills expert:
- "It is like putting a time bomb in your résumé. It could go off at any time, with dire consequences. The people who sell fake degrees will probably never suffer at all, but the people who buy them often suffer mightily. And — particularly if their "degree" is health-related — their clients may be seriously harmed."
 AustraliaIn Australia it is a criminal offense to call an institution a university, or issue university degrees, without authorization through an act of federal or state parliaments.
Under the Higher Education Support Act 2003, corporations wishing to use the term "university" require approval from the relevant Minister, the Minister for Education (as at May 2010).
The corporate regulator ASIC places strict controls on corporations wishing to use the term "university" and the name must not imply a connection with an existing university (e.g. University Avenue Newsagent Pty Ltd) if the applicant does not intend to provide education services.
The Corporations Regulations 2001 lists the 39 academic organisations permitted to use the title "university".
The use of higher education terms (such as "degree") is protected in state legislation, e.g. Higher Education (Qld) Act 2003.
Specific penalties are given within the individual acts and more generally are also covered by the "Misleading and Deceptive Conduct" provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974, permitting fines in excess of AUD $10M.
 CanadaIn 2006 the Canada Border Services Agency reported concerns about "visa mills", fraudulent universities operated for the sole purpose of helping foreign nationals obtain student visas to allow them to enter Canada.
 ChinaMost, but not all, universities and colleges in the People's Republic of China are public institutions. The Ministry of Eduction, which has legal authority to regulate college enrollment and degree awarding, publishes a yearly list of qualified higher-education institutions. Institutions not on the list cannot admit students or award degrees.
Also, no institution may call itself a "university" or "college" without approval by a provincial-level education department. Any institution, public or private, which wishes to name itself after a geographic region larger than a province (e.g. "South China ... University") must go through the Ministry of Education. A new regulation forbids any new university or college from being named "national", "of China" or similar names.
 DenmarkMost universities and colleges are public institutions; universities are self-governing, but financed by the state. However, some schools like Tvind's teacher college provide education, which are only accredited outside Denmark.
 FinlandAll universities and colleges are public institutions; universities are state institutions, and vocational universities are municipal organs. There are no private higher educational institutions and no legal mechanism to found or accredit any. Universities are explicitly defined in the University Act. The only state universities that operate as foundations rather than civil service departments are Aalto University and Tampere University of Technology, since 2010, but both are still explicitly mentioned in the University Act.
For purposes of professional qualification, the use of foreign degree qualifications is regulated: if the name of a degree can be confused with a Finnish degree that requires more academic credit, the officials in charge of professional qualification must require it to be formatted in a manner to eliminate the confusion. For example, if a degree is called "Doctor" but is in fact a lower degree (common in some cases), then this confusion has to be eliminated.
 GermanyIn Germany it is a criminal offense to call an institution a university, a Fachhochschule, or issue academic degrees, without authorization through an act of the respective state's Ministry of Education. It is also a criminal offense to falsely claim a degree in Germany if it does not meet accredited approval.
Some corporate training programs in Germany use the English term "corporate university". Although such use of the term might be argued to be illegal, in practice it is tolerated since everyone understands that such programs are not actual universities.
 Hong KongIt is illegal under Hong Kong law's Chap. 320 Post Secondary Colleges Ordinance Sec. 8 to call an organisation a 'university' without approval from the Chief Executive in Council.
Under HK Laws. Chap 200 Crimes Ordinance, Section 73, anyone who knowingly used false documents with the intention of inducing somebody to accept it as genuine, "is liable for a 14 years imprisonment term". Section 76 outlines that anyone who make or possess machines that creates false documents are also liable for 14 years jail time.
 IndiaThe University Grants Commission states, in section 22 of the University Grants Commission Act of 1956:
"The right of conferring or granting degrees shall be exercised only by a University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act, a Provincial Act or a State Act or an institution deemed to be a University under section 3 or an institution specially empowered by an Act of Parliament to confer or grant degrees."
 IrelandLegitimate higher education qualifications in Ireland are placed on, or formally aligned, with the National Framework of Qualifications. This framework was established by the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland in accordance with the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act (1999). It is illegal under the Universities Act (1997) for any body offering higher education services to use the term "university" without the permission of the Minister for Education and Science. It is likewise illegal under the Institutes of Technologies Acts (1992–2006) to use the term "institute of technology" or "regional technology college" without permission.
 MalaysiaIn Malaysia, it is an offense under the Section 71 of the Education Act 1996 to :
and Section 72 prescribes a fine not exceeding fifty thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both ."establish, operate, manage or maintain a higher educational institution by the use of the word “university”, except in accordance with any written law on higher education"
Apart from the penalties prescribed by the Act above, other laws that regulate the establishment of universities prescribe various other penalties:
- Universities and University Colleges Act 1971
- Section 23 makes it an offense to :
- "establish, form or promote or do anything or carry on any activities for the purpose of establishing or forming or promoting the establishment or formation of a University or University College otherwise than in accordance with the provisions of this Act or any other written law regulating its establishment"
- prescribing a fine of ten thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term of five years or to both upon conviction.
- Section 24 makes it an offence to :
- "establish, manage or maintain a higher educational institution with the status of University or University College"
- and/or to
- "issue to or confer on any person any degree or diploma purporting to be degree or diploma issued or conferred by a University or University College" unless it "is in accordance with the provisions of this Act or any other written law regulating its establishment"
- prescribing a fine of five thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term of three years or to both upon conviction.
- Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996
- Section 76 of the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act makes it an offence to :
- "establish, form, promote, operate, manage or maintain a private higher educational institution by the use of the word University, University College or branch campus"
- prescribing a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both upon conviction.
- Section 44 of the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act provides that :
- "only a private higher educational institution with the status of a University or a University College or a branch campus may award degrees"
- and Section 77 makes it an offence :
- "private higher educational institution which conducts any course of study or training programme for which a certificate, diploma or degree is awarded contrary to the provisions of Section 44"
- prescribing a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both upon conviction.
 MexicoIn July 2007, the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) of Mexico issued an alert listing eleven institutions that are unaccredited in Mexico: Atlantic International University, Pacific Western University, Endicott College (Endicott College in Massachusetts is fully accredited.), Alliant International University, United States International University, Newport University (not to be confused with University of Wales, Newport), Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Westbridge University, West Coast University, Bircham International University, and Vision International University.
Some of them were alleged to be committing academic fraud, through the issuance of degrees for a price after short durations (between seven and 60 days).
The Secretariat announced a public relations campaign to warn employers, students and parents of prospective students against this form of fraud. In future, Mexican private universities would be required to include official government registration information, including numbers and dates, in all publicity materials.
 New ZealandThe New Zealand Education Act prohibits use of the terms "degree" and "university" by institutions other than the country's eight accredited universities. In 2004 authorities announced their intention to take action against unaccredited schools using the words "degree" and "university," including the University of Newlands, an unaccredited distance-learning provider based in the Wellington suburb of Newlands. Other unaccredited New Zealand institutions reported to be using the word "university" included the New Zealand University of Golf in Auckland, the online Tawa-Linden and Tauranga Universities of the Third Age, and the Southern University of New Zealand. Newlands owner Rochelle M. Forrester said she would consider removing the word "university" from the name of her institution in order to comply with the law.
 NigeriaThe National University Commission (NUC) was formed in 1999 to clamp down on diploma mill activity in the country. A concentrated effort by the NUC has resulted in a significant drop in diploma mill activity in Nigeria. An International Higher Education article states, "Attainment of the Nigerian vision of being one of the top 20 economies by 2020 will be compromised by the injection of such poor-quality graduates into the economy. Herein lies the distaste for and the raison d'etre for government's clampdown on degree mills."
"In Nigeria, online degrees from unaccredited institutions are banned and employers are not supposed to accept fraudulent degrees."
 PakistanIn Pakistan, Higher Education Commission is looking after all the activities related to the accreditation of universities in Pakistan. Known as the 'Recognized by HEC', universities are granted this status by the government established commission which is working under the Ministry of Education. All the recognized universities in Pakistan are listed on the HEC website. http://www.hec.gov.pk
 PhilippinesTitle IV (Crimes Against Public Interest), Section V, Art. 174 and Art. 175 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines criminalizes the act of "Falsification of medical certificates, certificates of merit or service and the like." Art. 174 penalizes the maker or the manufacturer of such certificate, specifically a physician or surgeon in connection with the practice of his profession and a public official. Art. 175, on the other hand, penalizes the one who procures and knowingly uses such false certificate. Despite this, news and magazine articles appear from time to time reporting businesses operating along Claro M. Recto Avenue in Manila which offer fake documents for sale.
 PortugalThere was a long-lasting reputation of lower teaching standards and easier entrance requirements in some less reputed institutions of higher education, especially in private institutions and the smallest regional state-run polytechnics, which seemed rather relaxed. A number of scandals, suspicions and affairs involving private higher education institutions (for example, major private universities like Universidade Moderna (1998), Universidade Independente (2007) and Universidade Internacional (2007), among others), and a general perception of many of those institutions as having a tendentially relaxed teaching style with less rigorous criteria, have contributed to their poor reputation which originated a state-run inspection of private higher education institutions in 2007. In some fields, a number of private, and state-run polytechnic or university institutions, did not provide degree programs of academic integrity comparable to those provided at the most reputed departments of the major Portuguese state-run classic universities. In the late 2000s, there was a growing effort to define nonaccredited universities or accredited institutions which awarded nonaccredited degrees, as diploma mills, in order to raise awareness about the problem. In 1999 alone, over 15,000 students enrolled in Portuguese higher learning institutions (universities, public and private, polytechnical institutions, etc.) and newly graduates in the fields of engineering and architecture, were enrolled or were awarded a degree in a non-accredited course. Those students and graduates with no official recognition were not accredited professionals in their presumed field of expertise. At the same time, only one accredited engineering course was offered by a private university, and over 90% of the accredited courses with recognition in the fields of engineering, architecture, and law were provided by state-run universities. Since 2007, the State plans to enforce in the near future more stringent rules for all kind of public and private degree-conferring institutions.
 RomaniaThe Spiru Haret University has been considered in Romania and outside it as a diploma mill. Although it received accreditation from Romania's National Council of Academic Evaluation in 2002, step by step its accreditations were cancelled for a large number of specializations. Also, there are many voices which dispute the level of the education offered. The scandal peaked in the summer of 2009, when the way license diplomas are obtained becomes the object of an inquiry of the Romanian public prosecutors.
Petre Andrei University from Iaşi has been demanded to comply with the Law no. 408/2002, otherwise it will be liquidated. The same holds for Apolonia University from Iaşi (speaking of Law no. 481/2002 instead of Law no. 408/2002).
University Al. Ghica and University Europa Ecor, both from the town of Alexandria, Romania, made the object of an operation of the Romanian National Anti-corruption Prosecution Office, for selling 15,000 false diplomas in exchange for Euro 3,000 per diploma. Their profits have been estimated to about Euro 45 million per year.
 South KoreaIt is illegal to falsely claim a degree in South Korea if it does not meet accredited approval. For example, in March 2006 prosecutors in Seoul were reported to have "broken up a crime ring selling bogus music diplomas from Russia, which helped many land university jobs and seats in orchestras." People who falsely used these degrees were criminally charged.
Early 2007, Shin Jeong-ah (native 신정아) has been criminally charged for forging and misusing a degree from Yale University. This led to domino reactions due to her career status as a Professor in Dong-kuk University along with a curator position at an art gallery known to have many ties with both economical and political figures.
 Sri LankaIn Sri Lanka until 1999 only state universities could grant degrees, however amendments to the Universities Act that year gave certain institutions other than state universities power to grant degrees. This ability to grant degrees is established by an Act of Parliament (rare) or given by the University Grants Commission. Universities can be established only by a an act of parliament, to date no private university as been established in Sri Lanka.
 SwedenIn June 2007 the Swedish Minister for Employment, Sven-Otto Littorin, was discovered to have an MBA degree from Fairfax University. Aware that claiming an MBA from this diploma mill would be illegal in many states in the USA, Littorin tried to convince the Swedish media and people that the MBA was granted to him in good order. Probably due to the fact that he did not let anyone peer review his thesis, he was eventually forced to remove the reference from his official CV, but he remained in office.
 SwitzerlandIn federal law, qualifications from federal Institutes of Technology (ETH Zurich, EPF Lausanne) and those from Fachhochschule-institutions are protected and it is a criminal offense, under unfair competition legislation, to use any unfounded academic or occupational qualifications. The mere keeping of such a title, however, is legal. Thus, one can call oneself an LL.M., but must not use when competing for clients.
There are three notable diploma mills in Switzerland: Freie Universität Teufen, Freie Universität Herisau and Freie Universität Zug.
 United KingdomIn the UK it is illegal to offer something that may be mistaken for a UK degree unless the awarding body is on a list maintained by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. This is difficult to enforce on the Internet, where a site may be based abroad. However, UK Trading Standards officers have had notable success in countering a large diploma mill group based abroad that was using British place-names for its "universities".
 United StatesThe United States does not have a federal law that would unambiguously prohibit diploma mills, and the term "university" is not legally protected on a national level. As a result, the United States is a diploma mill haven from a global viewpoint. The United States Department of Education lacks direct plenary authority to regulate schools and, consequently, the quality of an institution's degree. Under the terms of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, the U.S. Secretary of Education is required by law to publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies that the Secretary determines to be reliable authorities on the quality of education or training provided by the institutions of higher education that they accredit. Some degree mills have taken advantage of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by representing themselves as seminaries, since in many jurisdictions religious institutions can legally offer degrees in religious subjects without government regulation.
Although the DipScam operation in the 1980s led to a decline in diploma mill activity across the United States, the lack of further action by law enforcement, uneven state laws, and the rise of the Internet have combined to reverse many of the gains made in previous years. In 2005, the US Department of Education launched www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation to combat the spread of fraudulent degrees. A number of states have passed bills restricting the ability of organizations to award degrees without accreditation.  
 See also
- ^ The Real and the Fake: Degree and Diploma Mills, Alan Contreras and George Gollin, Change, March-April 2009
- ^ Council of Better Business Bureau, 2000
- ^ UNW website, accessed 1 April 2007
- ^ a b c d e 5 signs your school might be a diploma mill, Foxnews, January 28, 2009
- ^ Lagorio, Christine (2006-07-06). "Diploma Mill Calling: Continuing Ed Without the Ed". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/education/edlife/diplomamill.html?ex=1189569600&en=898a63a18cf2b4c1&ei=5070.
- ^ Online Degree Scamming, KOMU, May 26, 2009
- ^ Bear, J; Bear, M P (2006). "Chapter 27: Degree Mills". Bears' Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning. Ten Speed Press. pp. 257–258.
The 2003 edition is available on Google Books.
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- Levicoff, Steve: Name It and Frame It?: New Opportunities in Adult Education and How to Avoid Being Ripped Off by 'Christian' Degree Mills. (4th ed., 1995)
- Bear, John: Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning, Ten Speed Press, 2001
- Noble, David: Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education, Monthly Review Press, 2002, ISBN 1-58367-061-0
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