A diploma or degree mill is an entity that sells collegiate credentials without
requiring appropriate academic achievement. In many jurisdictions inside
and outside the United States, diploma mills are illegal. These scam
operations can be difficult to trace because they usually use mail drops and
multiple addresses. Numerous degree mills operate on the Internet, where
they often masquerade as institutions of distance learning.
Legitimate distance-learning providers are recognized in the countries
where they are located, and their status can be verified by contacting the
relevant educational authorities. Academic credential evaluators should be
suspicious of documents issued by “universities” with addresses that are
office suites or box numbers that cannot be verified in any authoritative
Most degree mills also claim accreditation by one or more fictitious
“national,” “international,” “worldwide” or “global” accrediting agencies.
Verifying the existence and status of an institution is an essential step when
reviewing educational documents.
How to Spot Them
There are several types of diploma mills. Some are outright scams that sell
degrees or diplomas without requiring any work whatsoever. Others appear
more ambiguous in terms of their legitimacy, offering short-term degrees in
exchange for some form of academic work, such as a thesis or dissertation.
These organizations, according to experts, are the most dangerous kind of
diploma mills because they appear to be legitimate.
If an institution is not accredited by an agency recognized by the Council on
Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education,
chances are it’s a diploma mill. However, accreditation does not necessarily
guarantee legitimacy. There are currently 35 accrediting agencies in the
United States that are not recognized by the Department of Education or
CHEA and that will put their stamp of approval on just about any program
with no questions asked. In many cases, the accrediting agencies in
question are merely self-serving organizations set up by the diploma mills
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