During this past audit period, we saw increasing evidence of questionable diplomas or degrees. Skepticism about invalid diplomas is prevalent and is definitely justified; diploma mills are surfacing faster than the desire for furthering education. Diploma mills are those who provide a certificate or diploma in exchange for pay, with little to no actual work required to earn the degree, and without supervision from a state or professional agency.
Career schools need to be aware of their obligation for due diligence into applicant diplomas because students are only eligible for Title IV funding with a valid high school diploma or GED. If a school is found to accept a student with a fraudulent diploma, then any funds that student or students received have to be returned to the Department of Education. It’s the school’s responsibility to perform due diligence in determining that a student’s diploma is valid.
For a diploma to be valid, a high school or post-secondary school must be licensed by a state agency and/or accredited by a recognized accrediting agency. Completion of secondary homeschool curriculum is governed by states, and also qualifies. The legitimate diploma or GED qualifies the student to study at post-secondary levels.
Here are four fraudulent diploma red flags from the Better Business Bureau:
- A list of accrediting agencies that sounds a little too impressive. Often, diploma mill schools will list accreditation by organizations that are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. These schools will also imply official approval by mentioning state registration or licensing. (Look for an institution’s accrediting agency on the U.S. Department of Education’s List of Nationally Recognized Accrediting Agencies.)
- Students of the school have little or no interaction with teachers, and little work is required to ‘earn’ the degree.
- School names are similar to well-known reputable schools.
- The school address is a P. O. Box number or ‘suite’ at a post office. The campus may very well be a mail drop box or someone’s attic.
Diploma mills often use the Internet to market their programs, and may appear legitimate because of the increase in the availability of earning degrees online. Don’t be fooled by shady degrees that put your school at risk for returning funds to the DOE. Add a step to your enrollment evaluation to check the validity of the diploma listed on the student application.