Fake Online College Diplomas and Degrees

How Legit is an Online University Degree? The Truth About Online College Diplomas

It is easier than ever to get a college degree! Whether or not you graduated from the school is now irrelevant! On the other hand, the fastest growing sector in the world of higher education is “distance education” where one can attain an undergraduate and graduate education, specialized certification, or professional degree through the Internet. This article discusses the two main areas regarding online college degrees. One involves fraudulent online degrees and the other concerns the wave of intensive growth in distance education.

Real Online Universities

Universities are a strange breed. They are non-profit institutions that are looking to make a profit and stay alive, amid a plethora of competition. The statistics behind online universities is impressive. International Data Corporation Online recently reported that online universities are growing by 33% annually. The largest and most well-known is the University of Phoenix – Online which is their cyber-branch, so to speak. They are clearly in the for-profit university category and are raking it in.

Just like regular businesses saving money by running an online store without a brick and mortar location, these universities profit by not having to set aside the physical space and facilities. They also target people around the world, regardless of geographic location.

“…How bad is this educational fraud? Some of these websites offer to graduate you with honors for an additional fee…”

Does an Online College Degree have any Value?

The truth is, schools that are accredited offer diplomas that are really worthwhile. For geographic, financial, or quality of life (such as limited time) reasons, completing a legitimate degree online can be satisfactory. The majority of real universities do accept applications from potential students who have completed prior degrees online. This is true for both undergraduate and graduate-level candidates.

According to Vicky Phillips, CEO of GetEducated.com, the hottest online university degree is the Master’s of Business Administration (MBA). More students are working on their MBA through an online university than for any other area of study that is offered by legitimate Internet-based institutions.

As with any business, there are many competitors and scam artists trying to get in on the action. Scam universities are popping up all over the Internet and in some cases, it is difficult to stop them. There are clear differences between legitimate online degrees and fake diplomas.

Diploma Mills

Fraudulent degree website companies are frequently called ‘degree mills’ due to their rapid production and distribution of fake diplomas. Many of them have been around for decades and are exploiting the Internet to increase sales.

Credit for “Life Experience” Degrees

Most of the online universities function in the same manner. They offer credit for life experience. Essentially, all one must do is demonstrate their life experiences and pay the university’s fees (typically several hundred dollars), and they will mail you a diploma. At face value this sounds good since many people do have more practical experience than a formal education.

You can also get a transcript with artificial grades and a list of courses for which you received ‘equivalency’ for life experience. How bad is this educational fraud? Some of these diploma mill websites offer to graduate you with honors for an additional fee!!

The problem is that under most state and federal laws, “life experience” can only account for a small minority of the student’s overall degree-related credit. Degree mills ignore that fact and frequently claim to be accredited by official agencies which are equally bogus, in practice.

The Diplomas

The Diploma itself typically looks impressive and is indistinguishable from a real college or university diploma. Moreover, the names of these online “institutions” generally sound great, mimicking real universities.

Clearly the companies offering these diplomas have no integrity and worse, they make the rest of us who have worked hard for our degrees come into question.

Scam University Diplomas Can Get You a Job and a Raise

Aside from making it easier to get a job, in some professions such as teaching, proving that you have an advanced continuing education certificate or higher education degree can lead to a pay raise. In 2003, about a dozen teachers in Georgia who claimed to have Doctoral degrees from the bogus Saint Regis University were caught.

Government Employees Busted for Fake Diplomas

In May of 2004, an investigation revealed that nearly 500 government employees got their jobs by claiing they had degrees from these diploma mills. This included 28 high ranking officials and 3 with US high level security clearance.

In late 2003, a Maryland investigation resulted in the firing of a newly appointed Homeland Security director on his first day of work after it was discovered that he included a La Salle University “PhD” on his resume with his application for employment. House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis has stated that “public trust in government is a key pillar of our democracy. There is no place for diploma mill degree holders to work in our government, especially when we are talking about homeland security. ”

Diploma Mill Crackdown

There has been a crackdown on many of these companies which is good news for people who have legitimately worked hard to achieve their diplomas. In fact, these companies basically set up a website and sold a piece of paper. That’s what it comes down to. They all claim to check your previous coursework and prior life experience but that is rarely the case. Visit their website, pay by credit card and you’ll have a diploma within days.

The scary part of this whole scam is the range of degrees offered. You can get an Associates Degree, Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, Doctorate, Law School Diploma, and even a Medical School Diploma. Imagine someone with a fake degree operating on you!

While some states are investigating fraudulent online universities, others such as Hawaii, Wyoming, and Montana actually allow them to exist and sell diplomas under the agreement that they have some sort of real world presence within their state.

How to Recognize a Diploma Mill

How can you recognize a legitimate online college or university? One superficial way that will work in most cases is to look at the actual web address. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the international organization that dispenses domain names (web addresses). Websites offering commercial products and services end in .com and non-profit organizations end in .org. Officially accredited schools typically receive the .edu designation. For example, Stanford University’s web address is Stanford.edu.

It is easy to get a .com or .org designation since anyone can go to a domain name registration website and purchase the name for about $25/year. However, it is somewhat difficult to obtain a .edu domain name so the first thing to check is the web address itself which can give you a clue as to whether or not the “college” is real or a company looking to make a quick and easy profit by selling you a piece of paper for a few hundred dollars.

If you are curious about the validity of a given school or website you can read the list of accredited schools and check with the US Department of Education for detailed information. This is also a great list of universities that are sketchy.

The Bottom Line

Completing a degree using a college or university that is online can be fulfilling, constructive, and beneficial provided that the school is legitimate.


  1. Raphael Trujillo |

    This has become a very large issue amongst online colleges, where it seems to be harder for consumers to distinguish between legitimate universities and fake ones. The best thing is to check the accreditation of the school you’re getting your university diploma from. In some cases, civil suits have been successfully brought against these diploma mills and the unsuspecting students have received their money back. Although that’s little consolation for the time lost, it’s still something.

  2. Ion Livas |

    What is the quickest time a Master’s Degree in Business Administration can be obtained?

  3. Billy |

    Not all unaccredited degrees are issued from a diploma mill. Some state approved degrees serve a subset of the population quite well. These diplomas are approved by the California Private Postsecondary Education Commision. These state approved colleges and universities offer legal, valid degrees. The diploma that is conferred is granted after a considerable amount of scholastic effort and completion of the degree program. Infact, one can become an attorney and licensed clinical psychotherapist after completion of these CPEC degree programs in California. Ain’t life grand!

  4. Monique |

    Hello CitynetMagazine and various readers,

    This website stood out to me because it came up while a friend and I were doing research on diploma mills. I agree diploma mills are awful, scandalous, and those who offer them should be prosecuted for stealing precious time and money from potential, current, and previous students. I would however like to set the record straight regarding University of Phoenix. I received my undergrad from this university at a local campus and I’m currently pursuing my Masters in Education/Adult Education and Training online.

    I find it hilarious that even though UOP started as a brick and mortar (same as traditional schools), then added the flexibility of online and has been an accredited university since 1978; that now that traditional schools have caught on to the online trend, UOP is all of sudden some sort of scam. I’ve witnessed fellow classmates work hard, succeed, and go on to live prosperous lives. My education has been nothing short of a jewel to me as well. Unfortunately, you have students who enter intuitions and do not understand the process, many of who have bounced from one school to the next, and who (due to their own negligence) end up in difficult financial situations. This is usually were the fueling of the fire and awful comments begin, and so called lawsuits are stemming from. Students’ plea ignorance and the universities end up taking the hit. I’m not saying there are no bad employees, but this happens with any organizations. This university has over 400,000 students so yes, you will find some unsatisfied students, but this university does not continue to grow due to foul play. They are meeting a need for busy, working adults who are serious about furthering their education, and receiving a real world experience education they can apply to their lives immediately.

    No one mentions how most community colleges have their students in these “remedial” courses for years. None of the credits are transferring to a university or being applied to degree completion. Precious time and money is spent, when in all reality the student just needs to study harder, teachers need to actually “teach”, get a tutor even, and maybe…just maybe they can pass the college level course that will actually transfer and can be applied to degree completion.

    I recently assisted a family member with their financial aid paperwork for UOP and thankfully everything is still laid out for the student and is user friendly. Including tuition cost, book fees, loan amounts, additional tuition assistance –everything is right in front of the applicant, just read and understand, and do not move forward without getting your questions and concerns addressed and you’ll be fine no matter school you attend. I understood everything I signed and every penny spent and it was worth it.

    Thanks for you time. I hope this helps. Good luck to all of you.

  5. William Helm |

    I’m attending the University of Phoenix on campus. I have no complaints other than the high costs.

  6. peterson |

    i need information concerning the university of philosophy…is their diploma certificate recognised?

  7. Kobus Du Toit |

    I consider to enroll to the University of Sedona for a bachelors, masters as well as a doctorate in holistic life coaching and motivational speeking. I came across some contradicting information with regars to this institution. Aparently a investigation in the USA was made and the said institution were found to be sound. However, no rectification of the negative coments with regards to this finding were made on the internet. Could you please comment on this. Regards, Kobus Du Toit

  8. kay |

    Does anyone know of a REAL college or university that actually does give credit for experience related to what is being studied and any REAL universities that take certain realities into account. An example, fictional example: lets say a person was a journalist and worked as a journalist, published articles, or worked for cbs evening news, writing news, producing it etc. etc. are there universities who will give credit for that sort of experience. Are there any REAL online universities that follow European college in terms of if you are a very poor math student but you want to be a journalist you study related material for four years and earn a degree you are not required to do these prerequisites as it is assumed if you finished high school you have a basic education? thank you

  9. Steve |

    I have about 90 legit hours toward MIS and left school due to an unfortunate life circumstance and as this was the late 80’s I advanced quickly in my field and have always drawn high salaries no less than 100K since 1995. I want to make a career change and now need a bachelor’s in >anything< I want to do this as expediently as possible and while few would look past my experience to question a degree, I want it to be legit. Any suggestions?

  10. Lisa |

    Hi,Many people still think of online education as a way to take an extra class to supplement their brick-and- mortar education. However, online
    education, or distance learning, is becoming an increasingly popular way to complete an entire degree. More people are turning to distance learning to complete associates, bachelors and masters degrees……This is very useful article and i will book mark and share with my friends

  11. Wilbur |

    This is an old thread but in case you come around and see it,please,do yourself a favor if you want to get a College education: attend classes at an accredited College. Don’t waste your money and time with any so-called distance school.
    They teach you zero. Your degree will be worth zero. Don’ fool yourself. As for any of those ” accredited online Universities”, they’re SCAMS including the University of Phoenix.
    In order to learn and form your personality you need to attend classes and exchange your ideas with other students and teachers, real students,real teachers.
    Find your time,attend classes,if not full time, do it part time, it may take longer.not necessarily, but attend classes. And make sure it’s a regionally accredited resident College.

  12. Kelly |

    Great article! It is not easy to find the best education for you. I was in deep trouble, while I was looking for education for my daughter. A friend of mine recommended me this article and I found one of the best sites.

  13. Sakib |

    hi what about belford university? is they real degree providing?

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