Federal Trade Commission Announces Closure of Diploma Mills
Posted: February 06, 2015
On January 29, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that the owners of two Florida-based diploma mills have been permanently banned from marketing and selling academic degrees. This follows the September 2014 FTC announcement of a temporary restraining order against these organizations.
The FTC defines diploma mills as “a company that offers ‘degrees’ for a flat fee in a short amount of time and requires little to no course work.” In this particular settlement involving Jefferson High School Online and Enterprise High School Online, the defendants charged $200 to $300 for “legitimate” high school diplomas after consumers passed an online multiple-choice exam.
Consumers should review the wide array of credible sources available including the FTC, the Better Business Bureau and the US Department of Education to learn more about how to spot diploma mills. The FTC points to the following as signs that an organization may be a diploma mill:
- No studies, exams or interaction
- Schools that grant degrees based solely on work or life experience
- Flat-fee charges on a per-degree basis
- Promises that an individual can earn a degree in a short-period of time (a few days, weeks or months)
- Aggressive sales and advertising tactics including spam, pop-ups and aggressive telemarketers
The Better Business Bureau also includes such factors as little to no interaction with professors, names that closely resemble well-known legitimate institutions and addresses that are box numbers or suites.
As was the case in the FTC settlement, diploma mill operators are often quite savvy and will create false accreditation agencies to offer an air of authenticity to their sham institution. As the US Department of Education explains, the false accrediting agencies are simply for show and do not conduct a thorough review of the school’s programs or ensure that a quality education is provided. The US Department of Education publishes a List of Nationally Recognized Accrediting Agencies that consumers should review if in doubt of the legitimacy of an institution.
However, if an organization is not accredited, it does not automatically mean it is a diploma mill. The organization may be an entirely legitimate operation that is exempt from accreditation requirements (a religious institution for example) or is an organization in the process of earning accreditation. In addition, many states do not require accreditation or licensing for private schools. For example, the Florida Department of Education does not recognize institutions that accredit private schools. While Florida Statute Section 1002.42 requires K-12 private schools to register with the Department of Education, there are no official determinations as to whether a private school is legitimate or not.
The diploma mill problem is not isolated to the United States. Internationally there is a significant problem as well, especially in countries with large populations such as India and China. Employers should work with a reputable background screening provider to carefully vet the educational credentials of all qualified candidates, including educational experience outside the United States.