diploma mill

7 signs your school may be a diploma mill

With red flags in mind, following a few careful steps can help you avoid falling victim to a diploma mill's scam.

Online college classes are an attractive option to different student groups for various reasons–but students should know how to spot a “diploma mill,” or a school operating without the supervision of state or professional education agencies.

With more than 5.7 million students taking at least some of their higher-ed courses online, these diploma mills, or degree mills, are poised to award illegitimate degrees to unsuspecting students.

An online check by one group revealed more than 370 educational websites offering fraudulent degrees for those willing to pay.

In one instance, a man was accused of starting a fake university and doling out fake diplomas from prison for two years before he was caught.

(Next page: 7 red flags that might indicate a diploma mill)

Here are 7 red flags that could mean your institution is a diploma mill:

1. Suspiciously short degree achievement times. Some schools claim you can have your degree in as little as two months, but how much can you actually learn in that amount of time?

2. Bogus accrediting agencies. Long lists of accreditations from agencies you’ve never heard of can be a big red flag.

3. Programs that focus too much on offering “real-world experience” or “college credits for a lifetime.” These schools aren’t emphasizing actual classroom work for a reason: there probably isn’t much going on.

4. Tuition that is paid by degree. Respectable, accredited institutions ask for tuition by credit hour or by class. Never pay up-front for an entire degree.

5. Little to no real interaction with professors. Students should be able to request meetings with professors, either in person, over the phone or via video chat. If you’re denied this type of interaction, think twice about entering the program.

6. Oddly familiar school names. Schools with names that are close to–but not quite–popular school names are to be avoided.

7. Campus addresses that are P.O. box numbers or suites. Who knows where the campus actually is or who’s running it?

Following a few bits of advice can pay off, though:

1. Accreditation is everything. Look for schools recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education. When looking at a school, search for it on the websites for those two agencies.

2. If it’s easy, it’s a scam. Many diploma mill schools make it suspiciously simple: fill out a form, put in your credit card information and start “learning” (or in some cases, even receive your diploma immediately).

3. Look for student services. Accredited colleges sport a long list of student resources, including a library, class lists, staff directories, advising help and more.

Laura Ascione