“Cheating by obtaining test items or answer keys in advance of the test can be countered by the use of multiple test forms,” Meyer said. “However, this practice comes with its own complications. In order for the course to be fair, one version of the test cannot be more difficult than another. They all must have the same level of difficulty.  Every test must measure the same level of learning.”

Only with solid safeguards against cheating, experts say, can internet universities show that their exams and diplomas are valid—that students haven’t just Googled their way to an “A+” or gotten the right answers texted to their smart phones.

“I think it gives credibility to the entire system, to the institution and to online education in general,” said Jennifer Clay, 31, who is studying accounting at Western Governors University, an online nonprofit institution that enrolls many working adults like her.

Higher education officials said ensuring that online courses – including MOOCs – aren’t fraught with academic dishonesty is a key to mainstream acceptance.

“Online courses are under scrutiny to show evidence of integrity in ways that face-to-face courses aren’t,” said Teddi Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University in South Carolina.