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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 www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred.

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