Want to earn a degree, but afraid that your family or work obligations will keep you out of the classroom? Ready to retrain for a new career, but do you live miles away from your nearest community college?
Thanks to online colleges and universities, more people than ever before have the opportunity to earn a degree or retrain for a new career. In the past, obstacles of work and family obligations or of distance discouraged many students from seeking the education that could have allowed them to find a better job or a new career.
In the late 1990s, this began to change as many private colleges and universities took the concept of correspondence courses, classes students could take by mail, and applied the opportunities created by the emergence of the internet to provide better quality instruction and interaction to offer courses online. This trend accelerated in the early 2000s as state schools got in on the act, allowing their students to take a portion of their classes online and eventually offering entire courses of study online, allowing students all over the world to take their courses.
Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous institutions called “diploma mills” out there that will take students’ money, put them through a series of sub-standard courses and award them a degree or diploma that’s not worth the paper that it’s printed on and is virtually worthless in the work world.
Trying to use a bogus diploma to get a job can get you blacklisted or even prosecuted criminally in some jurisdictions. Isn’t it embarrassing to find out that you’ve paid thousands of dollars for a degree that may as well be made of Kleenex?
Spotting a diploma mill can be tough, as many employ very sophisticated and professional-looking Web sites to pitch their programs. It’s not impossible to recognize one of these unscrupulous organizations if you know what to look for, however.
Here’s a list of red flags that should tip you off to online diploma mills:
- Diploma mills often pick names that are similar to reputable, well-known institutions of higher learning (i.e. Harvard College, University of Stanford, etc.)
- Reputable colleges and universities are accredited by regional accreditation authorities such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. When you’re looking at an online college or university, check out their accreditation. If they’re not accredited, or if the agency that accredits them appears suspicious, chances are that you’re dealing with a diploma mill.
- If it seems to good to be true, it probably is. Avoid online colleges and universities that offer degrees in an unrealistic time frame (i.e. colleges that offer a doctorate in a month).
- If the college sets tuition on a per-degree basis, chances are that you’re dealing with a diploma mill.
- If the college or university doesn’t have a fixed address, just has a P.O. Box for an address or changes addresses often, be wary.
State governments through out the U.S. are starting to crack down on diploma mills — Oregon has had particular success in this effort — but some diploma mills take advantage of Constitutional protections offered to religious organizations or locate to states with lax regulations to avoid closure. Your best defense of being taken advantage of by an online diploma mill is to thoroughly research an institution before you sign up for classes.