April 10th, 2017 | Debbie Lamb, Sterling Talent Solutions

Deceptive Degrees: What Are Diploma Mills?

Diploma Mills and Due Diligence

A resume is how potential employers get a first impression of your skills, experiences and qualifications before they meet you in person. Job hunters use a variety of resume types and styles to sell themselves, their education and their past work. While a resume might look great on the surface, it may not be as accurate as you’d think. Lies that have appeared on a resume can run from minor embellishments to complete fabrications on their qualifications and experiences. One such way to “beef up” a resume is to add additional educational degrees that you might not have earned or could have received from a diploma mill.

A perfect example of deceptive qualifications found on a resume has been reported in major news outlets, such as NPR, Washington Post and ABC News in the past few days. Student journalists for The Booster Redux at Pittsburg High School in Kansas proved that good investigative reporting could make a difference. The team of students at the newspaper started an investigation of their new principal, Dr. Amy Robertson, as they were gathering information for a feature story on the newly-selected educator. Dr. Robertson interviewed very well for the position, was the top candidate for the job and was hired at the beginning or March. The student’s investigation found some errors on the principal’s resume, specifically a Masters and a Doctorate degree from a Corllins University in Stockton, California. The student journalists took their findings to the school district and then contacted the principal directly in conjuncture with the school board president. The newspaper’s staff detailed investigating found that one of the colleges mentioned on Dr. Robertson’s resume, Corllins University, did not have a direct U.S. address, accreditation or business license in the state of California. The high school newspaper released their story one day after the school board released a glowing recommendation of the principal. Because of the findings, Dr. Robertson resigned her position and the Board of Education is now looking for a replacement.

What is a Diploma Mill?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a diploma mill as “a usually unregulated institution of higher education granting degrees with few or not academic requirements.” Diploma mills are organizations that claim to be a higher education institution but which offer illegitimate academic degrees and diplomas for a fee. These degrees may claim to give credit for relevant life experience, evaluate work history and require submission of a thesis or dissertation for evaluation to give an appearance of authenticity. Most diploma mills have very convincing websites and will provide their “students” with official-looking degrees and transcripts. At times, even the students themselves have no idea that they used a diploma mill until they receive their actual diploma.

Telltale Signs of Diploma Mills

The US has a very high number of diploma mill university occurrences in the world, with the UK coming in a close second. In the United States, universities and colleges are accredited by the Department of Education. If a college does not have the government accreditation, they could be considered a diploma mill. These types of colleges have high costs and usually do not offer any financial assistance to their students. There are some revealing signs that candidates, recruiters and hiring managers need to keep an eye out for when dealing with diploma mills:

  • Get a Degree Based on Life Experience – Diploma Mills offer students credits for relevant work or life experience. Accredited colleges could give credits for specific experiences relevant to a degree program, such as co-ops and internships, but not an entire degree.
  • No Physical Location – Diploma mills do not have a need for a physical address or location. They do not have a need for a library, research papers and publications. If there is only a P.O. Box address on the website of the college, then it could be a red flag that this is not an actual learning institution.
  • Tailor-Made Studies – Diploma mills offer custom study programs that are tailored to the student’s degree of choice and promises that the degree can be earned in a few months, weeks or even days. Legitimate higher learning institutions offer a variety of programs for students to pick from that take many years to complete. Plus, students don’t get to pick the name of their degree, which academic honors they receive and their GPA.
  • No Homework Needed – If a school is offering a degree without doing any schoolwork or exams, they could be considered a diploma mill. If an organization does not have professors or teachers, this could also be an indication that it is not a “real” higher learning institution. All accredited universities, even online schools, require coursework and interaction with professors.
  • Flat Fee for a Degree – Many diploma mills charge on a per-degree basis. Real educational organizations charge by the credit, course or semester.
  • No Accreditation – While there are some higher learning organizations that do not share their accreditation for certain reasons, diploma mills usually do not have legitimate educational, provincial or territorial body or industry accreditation.

Education Verifications

How can a recruiter and hiring manager tell if there are educational inaccuracies on candidates’ resumes? An education verification service offered by a third-party background screening provider will be able to provide the correct answers. Education verifications confirm the type of degree, honors received and date of completion directly with the school registrar. Professional background screening companies maintain a database of legitimate educational institutions as well as known diploma mills to immediately identify them during the education verification process. Sterling actively identifies and monitors these types of suspicious educational institutions.

Having a misleading resume is only one of the risks that could lead to a bad hire. Having a comprehensive background screening policy in place can help employers and recruiters hire the right people and protect their staff, customers and businesses. Find out more by downloading our white paper, Screen Now, Save Later.

Screen Now, Save Later

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.