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Fake Credentials and Diploma Mills

Recently, a group of student reporters at Pittsburg High School in Kansas uncovered something unexpected about their new principle, Amy Robertson. While gathering information for an article they intended to write to welcome Ms. Robertson to the school, the students found reason to question her credentials; and the article they eventually wrote resulted in Ms. Robertson’s resignation.

What the students found was that Corllins University, where Ms. Robertson claimed to have received both her Master’s and PhD, did not have a functional website and was not an accredited school recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation or the US Department of Education. Further research uncovered several articles that suspect the school of being a diploma mill. The students also found reason for suspicion when Ms. Robertson gave conflicting answers regarding her education history during an interview and was unable to provide transcripts to verify her Bachelors of Fine Arts Degree from Tulsa University; a degree Tulsa University says it has never offered.

Each year, universities in the United States award an average of 45,000 legitimate doctorates, and another estimated 50,000 fake PhDs are purchased from diploma mills and other unaccredited schools. This phenomenon isn’t new, every year people use fake credentials to obtain positions like educators, doctors, lawyers and others we count on to be properly trained.  Back in 2004, the senior assistant secretary of defense, head of human resources for 2 million people, was found to have a fake master’s degree, and it’s currently estimated that 100,000 federal employees have credentials from a diploma mill. Part of the problem is that people simply accept stated credentials. But checking into someone’s credentials isn’t hard, as the student reporters of Pittsburg High School demonstrated, you just have to do the work.

The easiest way to identify a diploma mill is to find out if they are accredited. Other red flags to look for include:

  1. Diploma mills offer degrees for a set fee while legitimate universities charge by the credit.
  2. Diploma mills offer degrees based on work and life experiences and often promise you can get your degree in just a few days or weeks.
  3. Diploma mills often don’t list admission criteria.
  4. Diploma mills tend to have names that are similar to well-known reputable schools.
  5. Diploma mill websites usually don’t provide details about the content of their graduate programs, list very little information about the faculty, and often have no contact information listed other than an email address.
  6. Diploma mills often have complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau.
  7. Diploma mills yield sketchy internet search results.

Confirming an individual’s education history is an important step towards making the most well-informed hiring decision for your company.  For additional information regarding university accreditation in the United States, visit

New Criminal History Regulations Coming to California

On March 27, 2017 the California Office of Administrative Law (OAL) approved new regulations relating to the use of criminal background information in employment decisions. These new regulations will go into effect on July 1st of this year.

In addition to restating the existing bans on the use of criminal history in California (like using criminal history information to make decisions on hiring, promotion, and termination), the new regulations also require employers to prove that any criminal history information sought is job-related and in accordance with a business necessity. In order to show that the use of criminal history information is justifiably job-related, an employer must take the following factors into consideration:

  • The nature and gravity of the offense;
  • The time that has passed since the offense and/or completion of the sentence;
  • The nature of the job sought or held.

The regulations go on to state that in order for an employer to prove that their practice of seeking criminal history is appropriate for the job in which it is used  as an evaluation factor, the employer must either:


  1. Conduct an individualized assessment of the applicant, which includes informing them that they’ve been screened out because of a criminal conviction. The applicant must then be given the opportunity to provide additional information/reasoning that their criminal history should not be considered. The employer can then determine whether the additional information is sufficient for an exception.


  1. Show that any “bright-line” conviction disqualification policy can properly distinguish candidates who do and do not pose an acceptable level of risk and that the convictions have a direct and specific negative bearing on the person’s ability to perform the duties of the position. Any bright-line policy that includes conviction information that is seven or more years old will not be considered appropriate to meet a job-related risk. It is then up to the employer whether or not to refute that consideration.


Regardless of which way an employer chooses to demonstrate that their practice of seeking criminal history is relevant to the job, the employer must provide the individual in question with notice and the ability to challenge the accuracy of the information before adverse action can be taken. If the individual is able to show that the information is inaccurate, it cannot be used in the employment decision.

In addition to these new regulations, the California legislature has introduced legislation (AB 1008) that addresses the use of prior criminal history information in employment decisions.

Stay tuned to our blog for more information.