A diploma mill
(also known as a degree
) is an organization that awards academic degrees
with substandard or no academic study and
without recognition by official educational accrediting
. The purchaser can then claim to hold an academic degree
, and the organization is
motivated by making a profit
These degrees are often awarded based on vaguely construed life
experience. Some such organizations claim accreditation by non-recognized/unapproved accrediting
set up for the purposes of providing a veneer of
While the terms "degree mill" and "diploma mill" are commonly used
interchangeably, within the academic community a distinction is
- A degree mill provides a "real" degree from a fake
- A diploma mill provides a fake degree from a real college.
Common attributes of diploma mills
Diploma mills are frequently named to sound confusingly similar to
those of prestigious accredited academic
institutions. Despite the fact that
is intended to prevent
this situation, diploma mills continue to employ various methods to
avoid legal recourse
. An example of
this is Thomas James Kirk's LaSalle University
. In their
marketing and advertising campaigns, the mills will often
misleadingly claim to be "accredited" when, in fact, many are found
to have been endorsed by "dummy" accreditation boards set up by
company affiliates. In an attempt to appear more legitimate to
potential students, accreditation
based in the United States may model their websites after
real accrediting agencies overseen by the Council for Higher
(CHEA). Some may even advertise
services for transcript notation and diploma verification in order
to seem more legitimate. Another typical ploy is for mills to claim to
be internationally recognized by organizations such as UNESCO.
UNESCO, however, does not possess the mandate to accredit or
recognize institutions of higher education or their programs and
diplomas. As diploma mills are typically also licensed to do
business, it is common practice within the industry to misuse their
business license to imply government approval.
Compared to legitimately accredited institutions, diploma mills
tend to have drastically lowered requirements for academic coursework
, with some even allowing their
students to purchase credentials without any education. Students
may be required to purchase textbooks, take tests, and submit
homework, but degrees are nonetheless conferred after little or no
Buyers often use the diplomas to claim academic credentials for use
in securing employment (e.g., a schoolteacher
may buy a degree from a diploma
mill in order to advance to superintendent
). Some diploma
mills claim to be based outside the country they market to. This is
common with "offshore" jurisdictions.
Diploma mills share a number of characteristics that differentiate
them from respected institutions, although some legitimate
institutions can also exhibit one or more such characteristics.
Some common characteristics are:
- They lack accreditation by a nationally recognized accrediting
agency, although not all unaccredited
institutions of higher learning are diploma mills. Some diploma
mills claim accreditation by an accreditation mill while referring to
themselves as being "fully accredited". Some institutions base
their assertions of academic legitimacy on claims of affiliation
with respected organizations (such as UNESCO) that are not engaged
in school accreditation. Promotional materials may use words
denoting a legal status such as "licensed", "state authorized", or
"state-approved" to suggest an equivalence to accreditation. Some
advertise other indicators of authenticity that are not relevant to
academic credentials. For example, the University of Northern
Washington advertises that its degrees are "attested and sealed
for authenticity by a government appointed notary" although notarization certifies only
that the document was signed by the person named.
- No teaching facilities ‚ÄĒ the address is a postal box or mail
forwarding service or suite numbers.
- Getting a degree requires no visits to the school or other
face-to-face meetings with its personnel. Theses or credits can be
approved on a mail-order basis. There are, however, many distance education institutions that are
not diploma mills.
- There is little or no interaction with professors. Even if
comments and corrections to coursework are given, they do not
affect getting the degree. The professors may serve only to write
compliments to the "student" that can be given as references.
- Name of institution is deceptively similar to well known
- Degrees can be obtained within a few days, weeks or months from
the time of enrollment, and back-dating is possible.
- Either there are no faculty members or they hold advanced
degrees from the institution itself or from other diploma mills.
They may also sport legitimate degrees that are, however, unrelated
to the subject they teach.
- Academic credit is offered for "life experience," and this is
featured heavily in the selling points of the institution.
- Tuition and fees are charged on a per-degree basis rather than
on a per-term or per-course basis.
- Prospective students are encouraged to "enroll now" before
tuition or fees are increased, or they qualify for a "fellowship",
"scholarship" or "grant" or they're offerred deals to sign up for
multiple degrees at the same time.
- The institution has no library, personnel, publication or
research. In short, very little that is tangible can be found about
- Doctoral theses and dissertations are not available from
Microfilms International or a national repository or even the
institution's own library, if it has one.
- Promotional literature contains grammatical and spelling
errors, words in Latin, extravagant or pretentious language, and
sample diplomas. The school's website looks amateurish or
- The school is situated in the United States but the website
does not have an .edu top-level
domain. However, an .edu domain cannot be taken as verification
of school quality or reputation, as enforcement has sometimes been
lax, resulting in some unaccredited schools retaining an .edu
domain prior to any enforcement policy. Similarly, some non-US
mills use a .ac top-level domain name (for Ascension Island) to
give the impression of a genuine second-level academic domain name
(e.g. .ac.uk). However, some legitimate academic institutions have
registered .ac domains to prevent misuse of their names.
- The school is advertised using e-mail
spam (unsolicited electronic mail) or other questionable
shopping: the school is situated in another country or legal
jurisdiction, where running diploma mills is legal, standards are
lax or prosecution is unlikely, such as in British
includes a number of jurisdictions in the United States. Splitting the business across jurisdictions
is a way to sometimes avoid authorities, e.g., operating in one
jurisdiction but using the mailing address in a different
jurisdiction. Compare forum shopping
and tax haven.
- Despite being situated in such a diploma mill-friendly country,
the school has no students from that country, and is run entirely
by non-native staff.
- In most of the European Union, tertiary education is free of
charge to students who pass highly competitive entrance
examinations. In this environment, schools that have a tuition fee,
lack entrance requirements, and are possibly based in another
country, may be diploma mills; particularly when they match other
criteria in this list.
- Unusual academic subjects. Instead of "hard sciences", where competence is easier to
verify, the subjects are esoteric and may
be based on a pseudoscience, e.g.
astrology, natural healing, and religious literature. This makes
external verification impossible, because when they define their
science, they can also define the educational standards without
Degrees and diplomas issued by diploma mills have been used to
obtain employment, raises, or clients. Even if issuing or receiving
a diploma mill qualification is legal, passing it off as an
accredited one for personal gain is a crime
many jurisdictions. In some cases the diploma mill may itself be
guilty of an offense
, if it knew or
ought to have known that the qualifications it issues are used for
fraudulent purposes. Diploma mills could also be guilty of fraud
if they mislead customers into believing that
the qualifications they issue are accredited or recognized, or make
false claims that they will lead to career advancement, and accept
money on the basis of these claims.
Some unaccredited institutions include disclaimers in respect of
accreditation in the small print of their contracts.
Fake degrees are risky for buyers and consumers, says John Bear
, a distance learning
and diploma mills
- "It is like putting a time bomb in your r√©sum√©. It could go off
at any time, with dire consequences. The people who sell fake
degrees will probably never suffer at all, but the people who buy
them often suffer mightily. And ‚ÄĒ particularly if their "degree" is
health-related ‚ÄĒ their clients may be seriously harmed."
The 2003 edition is available on Google Books
it is a criminal offense to
call an institution a university, or issue university degrees,
without authorization through an act of federal or state
Under the Higher Education Support Act 2003, corporations wishing
to use the term "university" require approval from the Minister for
Education, Science and Training.
The corporate regulator ASIC places strict controls on corporations
wishing to use the term "university" and the name must not imply a
connection with an existing university (e.g. University Avenue
Newsagent Pty Ltd) if the applicant does not intend to provide
The Corporations Regulations 2001 lists the 39 academic
organisations permitted to use the title "university".
The use of higher education terms (such as "degree") is protected
in state legislation, e.g. Higher Education (Qld) Act 2003.
Specific penalties are given within the individual acts and more
generally are also covered by the "Misleading and Deceptive
Conduct" provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974, permitting
fines in excess of $10M AUS.
the Canada Border Services
Agency reported concerns about "visa mills", fraudulent
universities operated for the sole purpose of helping foreign
nationals obtain student visa to
allow them to enter Canada.
Most universities and colleges are public institutions;
universities are self-governing, but financed by the state.
However, some schools like Tvind
college provide education, which are only accredited outside
All universities and colleges are public institutions; universities
are state institutions, and vocational universities are municipal
organs. There are no private higher educational institutions and no
legal mechanism to found or accredit any.
Germany it is a criminal offense to call an institution a
university, a Fachhochschule, or
issue academic degrees, without authorization through an act of the
respective state's Ministry of
It is also a criminal offense to falsely claim a
degree in Germany if it does not meet accredited approval.
Some corporate training programs in Germany use the English term
"corporate university". Although such use of the term might be
argued to be illegal, in practice it is tolerated since everyone
understands that such programs are not actual universities.
It is illegal under Hong Kong law's Chap. 320 Post Secondary
Sec. 8 to call an organisation a
'university' without approval from the Chief Executive in
Under HK Laws. Chap 200 Crimes Ordinance
, Section 73,
anyone who knowingly used false documents with the intention of
inducing somebody to accept it as genuine, "is liable for a 14
years imprisonment term". Section 76 outlines that anyone who make
or possess machines that creates false documents are also liable
for 14 years jail time.
states, in section 22 of the University
Grants Commission Act of 1956:
higher education qualifications in Ireland are placed on, or formally aligned, with the
National Framework of Qualifications.
This framework was
established by the National
Qualifications Authority of Ireland
in accordance with the
Qualifications (Education and Training) Act (1999). It is illegal
under the Universities Act (1997) for any body offering higher
education services to use the term "university" without the
permission of the Minister for Education and Science. It is
likewise illegal under the Institutes of Technologies Acts
(1992-2006) to use the term "institute of technology" or "regional
technology college" without permission.
Malaysia, it is an
offense under the Section 71 of the Education Act 1996 to
and Section 72 prescribes a fine not exceeding fifty thousand
ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or
to both .
Apart from the penalties prescribed by the Act above, other laws
that regulate the establishment of universities prescribe various
- Universities and University Colleges Act 1971
- Section 23 makes it an offense to :
- :"establish, form or promote or do anything or carry on any
activities for the purpose of establishing or forming or promoting
the establishment or formation of a University or University
College otherwise than in accordance with the provisions of this
Act or any other written law regulating its establishment"
- prescribing a fine of ten thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term of
five years or to both upon conviction.
- Section 24 makes it an offence to :
- :"establish, manage or maintain a higher educational
institution with the status of University or University
- and/or to
- :"issue to or confer on any person any degree or diploma
purporting to be degree or diploma issued or conferred by a
University or University College" unless it "is in accordance with
the provisions of this Act or any other written law regulating its
- prescribing a fine of five thousand ringgit or to imprisonment
for a term of three years or to both upon conviction.
- Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996
- Section 76 of the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act
makes it an offence to :
- :"establish, form, promote, operate, manage or maintain a
private higher educational institution by the use of the word
University, University College or branch campus"
- prescribing a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand ringgit
or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both
- Section 44 of the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act
provides that :
- :"only a private higher educational institution with the status
of a University or a University College or a branch campus may
- and Section 77 makes it an offence :
- :"private higher educational institution which conducts any
course of study or training programme for which a certificate,
diploma or degree is awarded contrary to the provisions of Section
- prescribing a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand ringgit
or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both
Furthermore, all legitimate higher education qualifications are
placed on, or formally affiliated with the Malaysian Qualifications
under the provisions of the Malaysian Qualifications
Agency Act 2007 . Limited exemptions are however granted to
organizations and institutions "where the teaching is confined
exclusively to the teaching of any religion" or "any place declared
by the Minister by notification in the Gazette not to be an
educational institution" under the Education Act 1996 .
2007, the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) of Mexico issued an
alert listing eleven institutions that are unaccredited in Mexico:
Western University, Endicott College (Endicott
College in Massachusetts is fully accredited.), Alliant International
University, United States
International University, Newport University (not to be
confused with University of
Wales, Newport), Universidad
Nacional de Educaci√≥n a Distancia, Westbridge University, West Coast University, Bircham International
University, and Vision International
Some of them were alleged to be committing academic fraud
, through the issuance of
degrees for a price after short durations (between seven and 60
The Secretariat announced a public relations campaign to warn
employers, students and parents of prospective students against
this form of fraud. In future, Mexican private universities would
be required to include official government registration
information, including numbers and dates, in all publicity
Zealand Education Act prohibits use of the terms "degree"
and "university" by institutions other than the country's eight
accredited universities. In 2004 authorities announced their
intention to take action against unaccredited schools using the
words "degree" and "university," including the University of
Newlands, an unaccredited distance-learning provider based in the
Wellington suburb of Newlands.
New Zealand institutions reported to be using the word "university"
included the New Zealand University of Golf in Auckland, the online
Tawa-Linden and Tauranga Universities of the Third Age, and the
Southern University of New Zealand. Newlands owner Rochelle M.
Forrester said she would consider removing the word "university"
from the name of her institution in order to comply with the
The National University Commission (NUC) was formed in 1999 to
clamp down on diploma mill activity in the country. A concentrated
effort by the NUC has resulted in a significant drop in diploma
mill activity in Nigeria. An International Higher Education article
states, "Attainment of the Nigerian vision of being one of the top
20 economies by 2020 will be compromised by the injection of such
poor-quality graduates into the economy. Herein lies the distaste
for and the raison d'etre for government's clampdown on degree
"In Nigeria, online degrees from unaccredited institutions are
banned and employers arenot supposed to accept fraudulent
In Pakistan, Higher Education Commission is looking after all the
activities related to the accreditation of universities in
Pakistan. Known as the 'Recognized by HEC', universities are
granted this status by the government established commission which
is working under the Ministry of Education. All the recognized
universities in Pakistan are listed on the HEC
Section five of the Revised Penal Code of the
criminalizes the act of "Falsification of medical
certificates, certificates of merit or services and the like."
Despite this, news and magazine articles appear from time to time
reporting businesses operating along Claro M. Recto Avenue in
Manila which offer
fake documents for sale.
There was a long-lasting reputation of lower teaching standards and
easier entrance requirements in some less reputed institutions of
higher education, especially in private institutions and the
smallest regional state-run polytechnics
, which seemed rather
relaxed. A number of scandals, suspicions and affairs involving
private higher education institutions (for example, major private universities
like Universidade Moderna
(2007) and Universidade Internacional
(2007), among others), and a general perception of many of those
institutions as having a tendentially relaxed teaching style with
less rigorous criteria, have contributed to their poor reputation
which originated a state-run inspection of private higher education
institutions in 2007. In some fields, a number of private, and
state-run polytechnic or university institutions, did not provide
degree programs of academic integrity comparable to those provided
at the most reputed departments of the major Portuguese state-run
classic universities. In the late 1990s and 2000s, there was a
growing effort to define nonaccredited universities or accredited
institutions which awarded nonaccredited degrees, as diploma mills,
in order to raise awareness about the problem. Since 2007, the
State has enforced more stringent rules for all kind of public and
private degree-conferring institutions.
A big scandal in the summer of 2009 was the decision of the
Romanian Minister of Education to expel from titularization exam
the graduates of Spiru Haret
, which has been labeled as the largest university in
the world by a Romanian newspaper (as a number of enlisted
Although it initally received accreditation from The National
Council of Academic Evaluation, step by step its accreditations
were cancelled for a large number of specializations. Also, there
are many voices which dispute the level of the education offered.
The scandal peaked in the summer of 2009, when the way license
diplomas are obtained becomes the object of an inquiry of the
Romanian public prosecutors.
Therefore, the Spiru Haret University is increasingly considered in
Romania and outside it as a diploma
. Its lawyers seek to circumvent Romanian education laws,
and this implied the consequence that new laws are discussed by the
Romanian Department of Education, Research and Innovation, which
may lead to the prohibition of all Spiru Haret's activities.
illegal to falsely claim a degree in South Korea if it does not meet accredited approval.
example, in March 2006 prosecutors in Seoul were
reported to have "broken up a crime ring selling bogus music
diplomas from Russia, which helped many land university jobs and
seats in orchestras."
People who falsely used these degrees
were criminally charged.
2007, Shin, Jeong Ah (native žč†ž†ēžēĄ) has been criminally charged for
forging and misusing a degree from Yale University.
This led to domino reactions due to her
career status as a Professor in Dong-kuk University
along with a curator
position at an art gallery known to have many ties with both
economical and political figures.
In Sri Lanka until 1999 only state universities could grant
degrees, however amendments to the Universities Act that year gave
certain institutions other than state universities power to grant
degrees. This ability to grant degrees is established by an
Act of Parliament
(rare) or given
by the University Grants
. Universities can be established only by a an act of
parliament, to date no private university as been established in
In June 2007 the Swedish Minister for Employment, Sven-Otto Littorin
, was discovered to
have an MBA degree from Fairfax
. Aware that claiming an MBA from this diploma mill
would be illegal in many states in the USA, Littorin tried to
convince the Swedish media and people that the MBA was granted to
him in good order. Probably due to the fact that he did not let
anyone peer review his thesis, he was eventually forced to remove
the reference from his official CV
but he remained in office.
federal law, qualifications from federal Institutes of Technology
Lausanne) and those
from Fachhochschule-institutions are
protected and it is a criminal offense, under unfair competition legislation, to use
any unfounded academic or occupational qualifications.
mere keeping of such a title, however, is legal. Thus, one can call
oneself an LL.M.
, but must not use when
competing for clients.
There are three notable diploma mills in Switzerland: Freie
, Freie Universit√§t Herisau
Freie Universit√§t Zug
UK it is
illegal to offer something that may be mistaken for a UK degree
unless the awarding body is on a list maintained by the Department
for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
difficult to enforce on the Internet, where a site may be based
abroad. However, UK Trading Standards officers have had notable
success in countering a large diploma mill group based abroad that
was using British place-names for its "universities".
United States of America
The United States does not have a federal law that would
unambiguously prohibit diploma mills, and the term "university" is
not legally protected on a national level. As a result, the United
States is a diploma mill haven from a global viewpoint. The
Department of Education
lacks direct plenary authority
to regulate schools and,
consequently, the quality of an institution's degree. Under the
terms of the Higher
Education Act of 1965
, as amended, the U.S. Secretary of Education
required by law to publish a list of nationally recognized
accrediting agencies that the Secretary determines to be reliable
authorities on the quality of education or training provided by the
institutions of higher education that they accredit. Some degree
mills have taken advantage of the U.S. Constitution's
protection of religion
by representing themselves as Bible colleges
, since in many jurisdictions
religious institutions can legally offer degrees in religious
subjects without government regulation.
Although the DipScam
operation in the 1980s
led to a decline in diploma mill activity across the United States,
the lack of further action by law enforcement, uneven state laws,
and the rise of the Internet
to reverse many of the gains made in previous years. In 2005, the
US Department of
to combat the spread of
fraudulent degrees. A number of states have passed bills
restricting the ability of organisations to award degrees without
- The Real and the Fake: Degree and Diploma
Mills, Alan Contreras and George Gollin,
Change, March-April 2009
- Council of Better Business Bureau, 2000
website, accessed 1 April, 2007
- 5 signs your school might be a diploma mill,
Foxnews, January 28,
- Online Degree Scamming, KOMU, May 26, 2009
- Student visas used as ticket into Canada, Chad
Skelton, CanWest News Service, Vancouver Sun, July 31, 2007
- 200 CRIMES ORDINANCE&chapter_choose=Chapter 200
CRIMES ORDINANCE Hong Kong Laws Chap 200
- Malaysian Qualifications Authority: MQF At A
- Aviso "Programas sin RVOE", Direcci√≥n General de
Educaci√≥n Superior Universitaria, July 2007 (In Spanish)
- David Cohen, New Zealand Vows a Crackdown on Diploma Mills in
Wake of Unusual Defamation Lawsuit, The Chronicle of Higher
Education, August 26, 2004
- Clipping the Wings of Degree Mills in Nigeria,
by Peter Okebukola, The Boston College Center for International
Higher Education, Boston College, Fall 2008
- Degree Mills: The Impact on Students and
Society, by Judith S. Eaton and Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic, The
Boston College Center for International Higher Education,
College, Fall 2008
- Encerramento: Minist√©rio vai averiguar a base
de dados das institui√ß√Ķes Privadas inspeccionadas, in
Correio da Manh√£ 2007-03-30.
- Pedro Sousa Tavares - Governo desencadeia
saneamento das privadas (26 May 2007), in Di√°rio de
Not√≠cias (in Portuguese)
- Cum a ajuns ‚ÄúSpiru Haret‚ÄĚ cea mai mare universitate
din lume, Financiarul.ro
- Lista profesorilor de la "Spiru Haret" care au
obtinut ilegal gradul universitar, Ziare.com
- Sesizarea la Parchet poate declansa desfiintarea
Universitatii "Spiru Haret", Ultimaora.phg.ro
- See article in Swedish Wikipedia, entry in Swedish blog Friktion, and article
Minister's MBA 'came from degree mill', by James
Savage, The Local, June 19, 2007.
- Bogus degree sites shut down, BBC News, 7
- Associated Press, " Texas Supreme Court to review seminary case",
December 3, 2004
- State mulls online learning by the
Press, Billings Gazette, January 30,
- Oregon Office of Degree Authorization
- Is Oregon the only state that disallows use of
unaccredited degrees? Oregon Office of Degree Authorization
- Levicoff, Steve: Name It and Frame It?: New
Opportunities in Adult Education and How to Avoid Being Ripped Off
by 'Christian' Degree Mills. (4th ed., 1995)
- Bear, John: Guide to Earning
Degrees by Distance Learning, Ten Speed Press, 2001
- Noble, David: Digital Diploma
Mills: The Automation of Higher Education, Monthly Review
Press, 2002, ISBN 1583670610
General information and news