Online learning and distance education have become a norm in today's society, but not all online degrees are created equal. A diploma mill, also known as a degree mill, is "an institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent, or because of the lack of proper standards, worthless" (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). In some states, it is illegal to use diploma mill degrees to obtain employment, get a raise, get a promotion, advertise a business, apply for a license or certification, or gain admittance to an educational program. Click here for a cautionary story regarding the use of illegal degrees in law enforcement.
Diploma mills are enticing for online students because they typically offer a fast degree heavily weighted in life experience. They often have impressive websites, offer degrees at a fraction of the cost, and may even claim accreditation.
So, how can we spot a diploma mill?
1. The university's accrediting agency is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Diploma mills may claim to be accredited, but their accreditation is from an illegitimate accreditation mill. These accreditation mills often sound impressive and may claim to be "worldwide" or "international."
Click here to search for accredited institutions recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
2. The school does not have a (.edu) web domain.
Since 2001, new .edu web domains are controlled by Educause and applicants must meet strict standards to obtain an edu. "Only U.S. post-secondary institutions that are institutionally accredited by an agency on the U.S. Department of Education's list of Nationally Recognized Accrediting Agencies may obtain an Internet name in the .edu domain" (Educause, 2015). Degree mills often have a .com, .net, or .org domain. Schools developed prior to 2001 may still have a .edu domain.
3. They do not have a physical address or location listed on their website.
Diploma mills will often leave out important identifying information on their website. Many of these universities operate out of a residence or office suite and do not disclose their physical address and/or mailing address to the public.
4. Students do not have to complete core curriculum and/or are able obtain their degree largely based on life experience or work history.
Degree mills entice potential students with an "unrealistic emphasis on offering college credits for lifetime or real world experience" (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). While some universities may offer limited credits (usually less than 10%) based on work/life experience, degree mills offer their degree heavily weighted in life/work experience and do not require the student to complete core curriculum to earn a degree.
Amanda M. Richardson, RDH, BSDH, has been a dental hygienist for almost 12 years and has a wide range of clinical experience including pedodontics, periodontics, and general dentistry. Amanda currently works as a professor and second year clinical coordinator at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas. She is a member of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, Texas Dental Hygienists’ Association, East Texas Dental Hygienists’ Society, American Dental Educators Association, and the Texas Dental Hygiene Educator’s Association.
This dentist shares his opinion regarding dental insurance. If his peers have checked the box that they've accepted certain insurance coverage, yet do not feel they're being reimbursed sufficiently, they've brought on the problem themselves. It's time to take action.