Why Employers Should be Concerned About Diploma Mills
As the job market remains competitive, PreCheck has noticed an upswing in our detection and reporting of diploma mills as we conduct education verifications for our clients. There is no indication this trend will decrease. So what does this mean for employers?
What's a Diploma Mill?
A diploma mill is a fraudulent education institution that primarily markets its programs online and awards degrees or certifications for a fee when little or no work is actually performed to earn that degree. Essentially, the degree awarded by a diploma mill offers no value to an employer. To the purchaser, it provides the appearance of educational achievement.
The Federal Trade Commission, the federal agency that focuses on preventing consumer fraud, issued a consumer alert on diploma mills back in 2006 entitled "Diploma Mills: Degrees of Deception." The alert identifies a diploma mill as "a company that offers 'degrees' or certificates for a flat fee, requires little coursework, if any, and awards degrees based solely on life experience."
Diploma Mills' Impact to Employers
If undetected by the employer or the background screening firm performing the education verification, the fake degree can potentially result in harm to others if the job requires technical knowledge and training that the applicant does not actually possess. Additionally, an undetected diploma mill can eventually be the cause of embarrassment for an employer if the public, the media, a client, or a regulatory agency learns that an employee or company official does not possess a degree from an accredited education institution. There is certainly an expectation that this information is adequately verified when an applicant becomes an employee. Employers performing their own education verification or relying on a screening firm to conduct primary source verification need to be vigilant and be aware of the pervasiveness of these bogus institutions.
The Tell Tale Signs of a Diploma Mill
The common denominators to identify a diploma mill include:
- The ability to earn or be awarded a degree, diploma, or certificate when little or no work is performed. Degrees awarded for "life experience."
- The ability to earn a degree in a matter of days or a few weeks
- A degree guaranteed for a flat fee
- School's lack of accreditation by an accrediting agency or association that is recognized as an accrediting agency or association of institutions of higher education
- Verification of the accrediting body may reveal that it is connected to the institution itself
- A very standard website that closely resembles other online degree program websites
- An institution bearing a name very close to the name of a legitimate and widely known institution (Clemson College vs. Clemson University in SC, Columbia State University vs. Columbia University in NY, Dartmouth University vs. Dartmouth College in NH)
What Employers Need to Do When They Discover a Diploma Mill
It is essential that employers have an actual policy in place that defines consistent and appropriate actions when they learn an applicant or employee received a degree or certificate from a diploma mill. Among other points, an employer's policy should consider:
- Explicitly defining its position as it relates to the acceptance/rejection of degrees awarded from a diploma mill
- Defining what constitutes acceptable degrees (i.e. must be awarded by an institution accredited by an agency recognized by the US Department of Education, institution must not be named on listings of known diploma mills, etc.)
- Any exceptions when a diploma mill-issued certification/degree is not relevant to or a requirement of the actual position
In addition to establishing an internal HR policy, the employer should inform applicants and employees that it will not recognize degrees, diplomas, or certifications awarded from diploma mills. In drafting and posting job requirements, employers should specify that in order to meet the education requirements for positions, applicants must attain those degrees or certifications from institutions accredited by an agency recognized by the US Department of Education and that the institution must not be named on listings of known diploma mills.
Employers are advised to consult with qualified counsel to draft an appropriate policy.