March 26th, 2024 | Sterling

Why Does Education Verification Matter?

A resume is an important part of the job-hunting process, since it’s how a potential new employer gets the first impression of a candidate’s skills, experiences, and qualifications. Naturally, in today’s competitive employment market, job seekers are using a wide variety of resume types and styles to promote themselves, their education, and their past work to catch the attention of a recruiter or hiring manager. Unfortunately, to gain an edge on this tough competition, some candidates are tempted to exaggerate their qualifications on their resume. 

According to a recent 2023 US survey, 7 out of 10 workers admitted to lying on their resume. Additionally, 37% confessed they lied “frequently.” Clearly, many of today’s applicants are padding, embellishing, or even fabricating their resume. Without confirmation, these elaborations can result in tremendous risk to the employer. In one recent scandal, untrained nurses were discovered working in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and agencies caring for in-home pediatric patients.  How can employers know if the education experience listed on a resume is legitimate? 

How Do Background Checks Verify Education? 

A background check for education can help increase the thoroughness of your pre-employment background check and help mitigate organizational risk. Each component of an employment background check helps the hiring organization get a better picture of their candidates and provides the insight needed to make an informed hiring decision. 

As a part of pre-employment background checks, a background check for education confirms the details of the degree, either directly with the school registrar or through the school’s verifying service. Professional background screening companies such as Sterling maintain robust processes that follow best practices relating to conducting education background checks, so that they can avoid common verification traps such as “diploma mills”. 

What Is a “Diploma Mill?” 

One way some applicants try to pad their resume is by using illegitimate universities, or “diploma mills,” on their resumes. In the 2023 nursing scandal referenced earlier, 7,600 fake nursing diplomas were granted by three nursing schools in South Florida. At least 2,800 of these “nurses” went on to pass their national nursing board exams, and work in healthcare organizations across the country, many with the elderly and children.  How does this happen? 

Diploma mills are organizations that claim to be an institution of higher education and grant invalid academic degrees and diplomas for a fee. These degrees may claim to give credit for relevant life experience, to evaluate work history, and to require submission of a thesis or dissertation for evaluation to give an appearance of authenticity. Most diploma mills have very convincing websites and provide their “students” with official-looking degrees and transcripts.  

Experts estimate the worldwide diploma mill market is worth about $7 billion annually. While diploma mills can be found all over the world, they are most prevalent in the United States and the Middle East. In the United States, universities and colleges are accredited by the Department of Education. If a college does not have federal accreditation, there is no way to verify the quality of their educational programs. While maintaining a complete list of fake schools and diploma mills is virtually impossible, Sterling has thorough processes in place to help make sure the schools we are attempting to verify, whenever possible, are accredited, and not degrees granted through diploma mills.  

What Details Are Needed for an Education Verification? 

In addition to the information provided for a criminal record check such as full name, social security number, birth date, and current address, candidates may also be asked to provide the following information for their education background checks, depending on the employer’s verification requirements: 

  • Name and address of last school attended 
  • Name and address of high school or GED 
  • Name and address of colleges/universities attended 
  • Degree, diploma, or certificate name (i.e., Master of Science, Doctor of Medicine) 
  • Major or area of study (i.e., Computer Science, Business)
  • Graduation date/attendance dates

Being informed about the process and what information is needed for education background checks will help you let your candidate know what to expect. Additionally, discussing the details beforehand will help them provide the correct information, which in turn will help speed up the background check process. 

Does an Education Verification Also Check Credentials? 

Verifying professional licenses and credentials is not a part of education background checks. Instead, employers should use a credential verification to properly vet credentials and licenses.  

A credential verification verifies professional licenses and credentials with the issuing agency or board. It typically validates that the candidate has the licenses they claim to have, checks the issue and expiry date of the credential or license, and looks for any disciplinary actions against them.  

There are thousands of licenses that can be verified, including, but not limited to:  

  • Licensing and certification for medical doctors (MD or DO) 
  • Registered nurses (RN)  
  • Certified public accountant (CPA)  
  • Lawyers (JD)  

Sterling can validate professional licensing and credentials, by providing the name of the issuing agency, the license number, the credential title and type, effective dates, and state of issuance. 

What Are Background Screening Regulations? 

As a reminder, third-party background screening is regulated by federal, state, and local laws. At the federal level, background checks are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). One requirement of the FCRA is that an employer must disclose to the candidate that they will be performing a background check. The notice will explain that the results of the background check will be used for hiring, promotion, or retention. 

After explaining the intent of performing a background check, employers must obtain consent (either written or verbally) from a job candidate to run the background check and inform the candidate that the results will be used in making hiring decisions. There are many background screening regulations for third-party background screening companies and employers to follow. Most are designed to protect the rights of the candidate or person being screened. For more information, review the Federal Trade Commission’s  detailed article on Using Consumer Reports: What Employers Need to Know

Background screening extends far beyond just running a criminal record check. Understanding what information to tell the candidate to have handy for the background check will help reduce turnaround time and put your job candidate a step ahead of others.  

Visit our verification webpage to learn how Sterling’s Verification services are optimized to help your organization accelerate hiring and create a culture of trust and safety. Or contact us today. 

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.