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What Does a Diploma From a Diploma Mill Look Like?

Adam Rust's picture

Posted August 29, 2013

For a few hundred dollars, a high school dropout can buy a degree from institutions known as "diploma mills." These schools have secured accreditation but most colleges will reject their degrees. Generally, the degrees are purchased from web sites.

Nation High School Respectable Diploma

Some of the senior staff at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have indicated that they want to explore how colleges and universities earn accreditation. Less has been said of how similar mechanisms exist at the secondary level. Students buy diplomas for only a few reasons, however. One of the most common is to gain admission to a post-secondary institution.

To date, though, most of the work in this area has been done by staff at the Federal Trade Commission.

A key problem, though, is finding a way to identify such an institution when there are accreditation bodies ready to stand behind the integrity of their degree programs. At the moment, there is no language in place to legally define an institution as a "diploma mill."

Recently, though, I met a student at a local GED program who felt that he had earned one of these degrees. He was 27 and had just passed the GED test. He participated in online educational programming at two high schools several years ago. This student graduated with honors.                          

By rules, students must complete some coursework in order to graduate. This school sent Bernard a packet of assignments. Bernard assumed that the three hours he spent completing it would be the initial step in longer series of correspondence. That is why he was a bit surprised when his diploma came several days later, along with this transcript.

Although he earned a C-plus in white water rafting, he proved to be a strong student of maths: He managed to get an A in Calculus I and an A minus in Calculus II. With a relatively weak showing in the language arts (B minus in English Writing Skills and in Oral Communication) he finished with a GPA of 3.19. Apparently, though, Bernard was intellectually curious. He passed Arabic Literary Theory and a course that examined the Art of Mathematics.

He took this degree to his local community college, but it was rejected. This response would seem to provide some empirical notion for when a school could be characterized as a "diploma mill," but again - Nation High School is fully accredited!

You Can Get a Degree Today - But Hurry

Nation transcriptIf you are seeking a convenient online program, you have found the right place. That's right - you can enroll at Nation High School today. Currently, the school is offering a discount on tuition. The normal price is $449, but if you act quickly, you can qualify for a program at the sweet price of just $289. There is even an expert in one of their chat rooms ready to answer your questions.

To qualify for admission, you must have two years of prior life experience. I'm not sure why "prior" is an important point of distinction but perhaps that reflects another expectation for meeting their accreditation requirements. Nation is accredited by the Distance Education Accreditation Body.

So the answer, unfortunately, is that it is hard to say. Short of finding some kind of legal sanction, a gullible student can easily believe in the quality of any school with accreditation. Anyone should be suspicious when a diploma comes in the mail after only one week, but at that point, a person has no option but to accept the result. If the school says you have passed, then school's out forever.

In the end, the answer is to make rules for the rule-makers.